Last Wednesday, the Village of Oak Park filled two trolleys with architects, developers and real estate agents from out-of-town and showed them a thing or two about development in the village.

A Who’s Who of local government officials led the excursion, which highlighted key development opportunities like the soon-to-be vacated Foley-Rice dealership on Madison, the Pancake House building on Lake Street at Forest, and the Avenue Club building on South Boulevard near Oak Park Avenue, which formerly housed Val’s halla Records.

The village also released two requests for qualifications (RFQs), seeking anyone interested in developing the Colt Building at 1145 Lake St. and a parcel spanning the 200 and 300 blocks of Madison Street.

Perry Vietti, chief operating officer of Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, said his organization is interested in affordable housing opportunities in Oak Park. Part of their mission is to help low income and homeless people.

“Like most of the metropolitan area, housing is very expensive,” he said. “Even people with decent incomes have a hard time, and Oak Park is no different than anywhere else. I think Oak Park is a great place to live, a diverse community, historic character, great public transportation,” Vietti said. “It’s one of the ring suburbs that is really desirable.”

Vietti, who currently lives in the village, said he wasn’t aware of all the available parcels in Oak Park. The loss of affordable housing at the YMCA piqued his organization’s interests.

William Crowden-a former Oak Parker who graduated from OPRF High School and now works as a real estate advisor for SR Commercial in Chicago-said his company is assembling a package about Oak Park for potential developers.

“In my opinion, it seems to be stronger than a lot of the other markets in the area because of its diversity and proximity to the city,” Crowden said. “Oak Park is constantly strong; it’s a great opportunity for developers.

“It’s a diverse market, good demographics and national companies are showing strong interest,” he said later. “Oak Park is a market I have a lot of interest in because I feel like they’re missing some aspects of national tenants.”

Crowden said a number of national banks and retailers have expressed interest in Oak Park, but he could not elaborate further. He also thought it was “refreshing” that the village is actively involved in the development process and in looking for green buildings in future projects.

Elliot Offenbach, in development and acquisitions at Sierra Realty Advisors, a Chicago commercial real estate brokerage firm, said there are “vast opportunities in Oak Park with respect to development. Developers are obviously interested in Oak Park. It’s a tight market and a lot of great opportunities were shown by the [village]. They seem pro-active in furthering opportunities for development.”

Kathleen Hess, associate principal of Hanno Weber & Associates, an architecture and urban design firm, also feels there are “wonderful” development opportunities in Oak Park.

“I know they were stressing retail, and I think there might be other opportunities for housing,” Hess said. “I’m not sure if that’s what Oak Park is interested in. … My impression is that the village is very interested in encouraging the right kind of mix for the area, and I think they’re very open to suggestions.”

Chris Michaud, associate at Hanno Weber, liked what Oak Park is doing with Marion Street and the downtown area. He also agreed with Oak Park’s encouragement of green planning, something his company has practiced for years.

“Whenever you do architecture, you should think of it in terms of sustainability and not be wasteful in your practices,” he said. “I think that’s just smart design.”

Anthony Campagni, retail broker for Baum Realty Group in Chicago, believes Oak Park has a strong retail market, which is “highly sought after” by developers.

He said Oak Park is still lacking in national retail presence, possibly because of the constant state of flux on Lake Street, coupled with the lack of available space there.

“That’s really the only place you want to be,” he said. “There’s really no secondary market besides it in terms of national retail. The market has been challenging. … Madison is yet to become what it could be in terms of national presence, or even Harlem. I’m not quite sure why.”

He pinpointed the Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue intersection as a key spot for development with several available parcels.

“I’m sure there would be a resurgence of interest from retailers if you had a few people clean it up and shed some new light on it,” Campagni said.

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