Oak Park green-lighted the sale of a village-owned property Monday that will eventually deposit $540,000 into village coffers but also leave a local restaurant homeless for the foreseeable future.
Trustees voted 6-1 to sell 1113 Lake St. to a Chicago-based developer. That one-story building has been home to Los Cazadores Mexican restaurant for the past eight years.
The village first bought the building in 2002 from the Garcia family, which owns the restaurant, for $350,000. The intent was to have the building be part of a larger redevelopment project sometime in the future.
But that never happened, and Oak Park instead decided to put the building up for sale last June. Preferred Development submitted the high bid, and plans to put retail there, according to Village Manager Tom Barwin. The developer declined to comment to Wednesday Journal.
The Garcias made the only other bid for the property, offering $115,000. That’s the original sale price minus three years of rent. The family originally bought the property for $210,000, according to county records.
Eddy Garcia, son of the owner, claims the village pressured his family into selling. He said the restaurant was profitable when it opened, and they had no reason to sell. Garcia said his father, Fidel, who comes from Mexico, was raised in an environment where you do what the government tells you.
“When we first came here nine years ago, this place was a gold mine,” Eddy Garcia said Monday. “We had no reason to sell. … This was his dream; this was his American dream.”
Garcia also claimed the village said it would sell back the property to their family if a redevelopment project never happened. Two trustees on the board at the time also say they remember hearing that idea agreed to verbally.
However, Mike Chen, director of development services for the village at the time, in an interview with the Journal in June, denied that the family was pressured into a sale. According to a letter sent to the Garcias’ attorney provided by the village, Oak Park never agreed to sell the property back.
Officials also maintain the Garcias first approached the village about selling their property. Garcia says it was the other way around.
Since the property was purchased with TIF money, the village was required by law to sell the property through a competitive bidding process, Barwin said. Proceeds from the sale will go back into the downtown TIF.
It will likely take about six months before the village closes the sale, Barwin said. That would give Los Cazadores time to find a new home. Officials recommended the Garcias go through Oak Park Development Corporation to help find a new location.
In past interviews, Garcia said the family likely couldn’t afford rent. The $3,000 a month the village has been charging the family is well below market value. Garcia told the Journal it would likely cost twice as much to rent a comparable space.
Also, it would cost about $450,000 to buy all the required equipment for a new restaurant, he said Monday, money the restaurant can’t afford.
In making their final decision, trustees emphasized the huge disparity in offers for the building, as well as a lack of evidence to back Garcia’s claims.
“It would be irresponsible of us to not accept the best price,” said Trustee Jon Hale.
Trustee Greg Marsey cast the lone dissenting vote. He wanted the village to sell the building back to the Garcias for the original sale price. At the same time, he argued that the village could’ve gotten more for it. However, officials say the $540,000 is close to the building’s appraised value.
The Garcias also made an offer to buy the building back in 2006 for $350,000, but the village decided to wait to see what happened with redevelopment of the Colt superblock, according to village records.