After almost a decade of debating, exploring and deliberating, the “heart” of Downtown Oak Park might finally be taking shape.

Last month, the village announced a contest, looking for teams of developers, brokers and architects to create a plan for the Colt Super Block – a village-owned property that includes the Colt building, 1121-1123 Lake St. just next door, a North Boulevard parking lot and 1145 Westgate, a now empty office building.

The contest, called a “request for qualifications,” ended Wednesday, and the village has received seven proposals for what officials consider a “‘signature site” that could “redefine” downtown with a solid development plan.

“We actually have some competition going here, and that’s what we were hoping for when this process was conceived,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin.

The rough proposals include a wide range of possibilities from retail to residential, offices, apartments or condominiums, said Bob Clements, acting director of development services in Oak Park. A couple proposals incorporated a hotel, and another already had a retailer attached to it.

All seven plans included some element of parking, as the village requested, and all seven call for the demolition of the Colt building.

The next step, Clements said, is a litmus test, with the village asking teams to flesh-out the details of their plans and proving that they can actually make them reality. Staff is reviewing the plans and will interview each team in the near future.

In the next couple of weeks, the village board will whittle the field to three teams, with each receiving a $10,000 stipend to help develop their plan.

“It’s envisioned to be a great location, and when you think about it, that’s the heart of Oak Park,” Clements said.

See the Oct. 31 issue of Wednesday Journal for more details.

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