Village closes in on deal at Madison and Highland

More than six months after picking a group to redevelop a piece of village-owned land, Oak Park appears to be zeroing in on a sale.

Back in March, the village board picked a group of local developers who were interested in building on two parking lots at Madison Street and Highland Avenue.

The village board was set to approve a contract, laying out the sale of the land, at a meeting Sept. 2. However, the item was removed from the board’s agenda at the last minute. Village Manager Tom Barwin said it was because lawyers still needed to iron out some of the finer details.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting all the legal language done correctly the first time through,” he said. “I don’t think that could be finalized till we’re fairly certain we had terms agreeable to both parties.”

The group, called Madison Highland LLC, is close to buying the 27,000-square-foot piece of land for $1.35 million, says Mary Jo Schuler, development team chair. If all goes as planned, the agreement should be on the Oct. 6 village board agenda, she said. Proceeds from the sale would go to the village’s general fund, along with the Madison Street TIF, according to village documents.

The proposed building would be four stories, with office space on the top three floors and 18,500 square feet of retail on the ground floor. It would include a 151-space garage in the rear. The first floor of the garage would have metered parking, while the second floor is for the offices. Schuler said the group would like to break ground on the parking garage this fall, depending on when the project might get approval from the Oak Park Plan Commission.

Shuler said no village subsidies are contained in the agreement.

Oak Park Volvo seeks tax relief

With sales dipping and property taxes jumping through the roof, Volvo of Oak Park is looking for relief. The car dealership has met with the village recently to ask for help, said owner Antonio Scalzo.

“We’ve tried to overcome the loss of new car sales, but it’s almost impossible to keep it up if we don’t get some kind of relief from the village,” he said.

This year has been the worst since the dealership opened in 2004, with sales dropping by 10 percent in the past year. The company has been forced to drastically increase its used car inventory, because no one is buying new cars.

Other dealerships in the region are facing much larger decreases, in the area of 25-30 percent. Cuts to incentive packages have also hurt Volvo of Oak Park’s sales. Scalzo believes the Volvo Tower has helped attract some customers.

Scalzo’s biggest concern is the dealership’s dramatic jump in property taxes. Volvo paid $176,000 in taxes for 2007. The property’s assessment this past year jumped by 34 percent, according to Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar. That’s below the average commercial property value increase of 50 percent, he added.

Based on that increase, ElSaffar estimates that Volvo’s 2008 property taxes will shoot up to $210-230,000 before appeals. However, he’d be surprised if the Cook County Board of Review didn’t “substantially reduce those numbers.”

In the meantime, Scalzo believes the sales downturn will continue for at least six more months. For now, the dealership remains in the black, he said.

Village Manager Tom Barwin said the board is forming a “legislative subcommittee.”

“I think the municipalities have to begin to coalesce and get some corrective measures underway. We’ve heard from him and others, and are certainly not in disagreement.”

-Marty Stempniak

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