What happened to all the smiling developers interested in Oak Park?

Last month, the village rented two trolleys and filled them with 40 or so architects, Realtors and developers, eager to showcase a plethora of business opportunities in the area.

A key focus of the tour was two village-owned sites-currently parking lots at Madison and Highland and the Colt building super block in Downtown Oak Park. At the end of the afternoon, the village released a “request for qualifications” seeking developers interested in the two sites.

In all, 42 firms received the RFQ after the tour, 40 more on a mailing list who the village invited on the tour, and another 20 who downloaded the document online.

Last Wednesday, the deadline for the Madison Highland spot expired, and the village received just one response to the RFQ according to Bob Clements, acting director of development services.

“You always hope for more [responses],” Clements said, pointing to the small size of the site and its location outside downtown as deterrents. “There was a pretty extensive outreach effort, but all we got was one.”

“I would say the economy is a bit soft now, especially the housing market,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin.

The response came from a team of local developers calling themselves Madison Highlands LLC. They’re proposing a mixed-use project with a parking deck along the property’s rear, a cul-de-sac on Highland, retail use and office condominiums (where office users own their space rather than leasing). Residential use is not incorporated into the initial plan.

“The group has impressive credentials,” Barwin said. “I hope to see a high quality project proposal.”

“A project which is good for the street, and consistent with the [Madison Street] corridor plan is vital to getting the street going,” said Dennis Marani, president of the Madison Street Business Association and chair of the coalition. Marani also runs a landscaping business on Madison Street.

It’s too early to say what type of retail will occupy the proposed space. That will be fleshed out later, depending on if the village board tells the team to continue with the project. Clements said village staff is recommending the board does so. The board will decide sometime in late October or early November.

If approved, the team needs to present a detailed proposal for the site in late December.

The village released a request for proposals on the Madison, Highland site in 2002, but the only response it received was for an indoor storage facility, which the board rejected.

With a week left till its deadline, the village is yet to receive a response to the Colt RFQ, which encompasses the Colt building, 1121-1123 Lake Street next door, a North Boulevard parking lot and 1145 Westgate.

Clements said sometimes responses come in the day they’re due. The site has generated between five and 10 phone calls a week from interested parties he said, because of its larger area and prime downtown location.

The village released an RFP for just the Colt building last year, and received two responses in February, both of which were rejected.

Marani hopes the Madison RFQ will help the street take a step forward.

“Any good project is an impetus for another good project,” Marani said.

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