Plans by Fenwick High School to purchase a historically significant former car dealership on Madison Street from Foley-Rice Cadillac appear doomed. Questions about how the school plans to use the property are driving the deal’s demise.
Last October, Fenwick was closing in on purchasing the former Packard dealership building, located at 644 Madison Street. Designed in 1924 by the son of architect E.E. Roberts, the village labeled the building as a potential historic landmark in a survey last year and eligible for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The village is pursuing historic designation for the Packard building, which would protect it from demolition, Urban Planner Doug Kaarre said. A landmark application was submitted to the Historic Preservation Commission in November, but delayed till January so Foley-Rice can plan how it wants to market the property.
Fenwick intended to use part of the property for 150 school parking spots. They also planned to release a request for proposals seeking developers interested in the site. However, village zoning rules say institutions can’t have supplemental parking over 500 feet away. Fenwick’s RFP left open the option of razing the Packard building.
“We’ve always said all along that we were not going to place any restrictions on any developer,” said Gregory Melnyk, attorney for the Fenwick Foundation, a separate entity working for the long-term viability of the high school. “If a developer feels the building is functionally obsolete, we were not going to prevent that.”
Without parking, the school has little interest in the deal, Melnyk said.
“We’re not in the real estate development business,” he said. “We’re in the business of developing well-educated young adults. To buy it for the sole purpose of developing it would not be in the interest of Fenwick.”
Melnyk characterized the deal as being 60/40 in favor of it not happening, but that it’s not impossible something could still happen. The Fenwick board of directors will later determine how it wants to proceed on the deal.
The school will continue searching for ways to provide added parking for students and faculty, Melnyk said.
Foley-Rice owns four properties on Madison: 644, an old showroom, an apartment on the east side of Wesley and their former auto body shop. Under a business retention agreement with the village, the remodeled car showroom on the south side of Madison has to stay an auto dealership until 2012 but that doesn’t cover 644, Bob Clements, acting director of development services said.
The village has no interest in purchasing the properties. Foley-Rice has hired a large commercial broker to sell them, he said.
“The village, with its limited resources, would prefer to see the private sector redevelop the property,” Clements said.
Calls to the dealership and to Stephen Foley Jr.’s office were not returned in time for this story’s deadline.
Village President David Pope said he looks forward to seeing something consistent with the Madison Street corridor plan at the 644 property. The plan labels the building as historically significant. It also calls for Fenwick having some sort of presence on Madison.
“I think it would be great for Fenwick to have an attractive front door presence on Madison Street,” Pope said. “Fenwick is obviously an incredibly important institution in Oak Park and the broader region. An enhanced campus presence, as is called for in the Madison Street plan, would be beneficial not just to the community but the neighborhood at large.”
Pope believes it’s possible for Fenwick to add that presence and also eventually add some type of parking lot or structure to help remedy the area’s parking shortage.
Dennis Marani, president of the Madison Street Business Association, said he’d like to see some commercial, not residential, development on the Foley-Rice property.
“Anyway you want to spin it, it’s all about development,” he said.
The corridor plan identifies Fenwick as a destination center in Oak Park. Cultivating a campus feel with the school would improve the street’s appearance and bring people from the school to patronize any nearby businesses, he said.
A lot of phone calls and interest are circulating around Madison. With the recent competition to redevelop village-owned property at Madison and Highland, he believes, the project could boost interest in the district and start a domino effect, if it’s successful.
“I got a feeling that things are going to start to happen,” Marani said.
Fenwick neighbors want parking reform
Residents on the 700 block of South Scoville don’t want Fenwick students parking on their block in the morning. It looks like they’ll have to wait till next school year to get a solution from the village.
A petition signed by 85 percent of people on the block, sought a parking ban from 7 to 9 a.m., Monday thru Friday. Residents say Fenwick students gobble up all the available parking on the block in the morning.
“We don’t have our block any more,” Chris Portnoff, 56, a 10-year resident said. “We can’t have visitors, it’s ridiculous. Why doesn’t the village help us solve this situation? They just sit back and wait until it blows up.”
Portnoff said the situation has gotten progressively worse over the past three years, and alleges that students are rude and dismissive when she asks them to park down the block.
Jerry Lordan, Fenwick’s assistant to the president, said the school does not oppose the neighbors’ petition. Students are parking farther south because the school has lost 50 spots in student permit parking zones since 2003. He proposed that the Transportation Commission reinstate those spots on different east/west streets. Instead, the school got a lot at Madison and Oak Park Avenue as a temporary solution until the village analyzes the parking scope around the school.
Portnoff believes students don’t want to use the lot because it’s too far away from Fenwick.
Based on parking surveys, staff recommended a ban during the school year, August 15 to June 15, from 7 to 9 a.m. However, the commission decided to hold off on the restriction because it would likely just push parking over to the two blocks east and west. Two of those four blocks already have an 8 to 10 a.m. restriction, and the commission wanted to give the other two a chance to petition and seek the same times to create uniformity through the neighborhood, Chair Sonny Ginsberg said.
The recommendation will go before the village board in February, most likely, and if they agree, they’ll bounce it back to the commission sometime after that. After public hearings, the commission hopes to send it back to the board for a final recommendation, hopefully by the end of the summer, so they could have something in place by the start of the 2008-09 school year, Ginsberg said.