A gym is jumping from Forest Park’s bustling stretch of Madison Street and trying to land in a vacant car dealership space on Madison in Oak Park. But there’s a $400,000 hurdle.

That’s the sum of money that in 2005 the Village of Oak Park had given the former tenant, Foley-Rice Cadillac, in an agreement to keep them here. But, in 2007, the dealership closed anyway. The village then said it wanted its money back.

It’s yet to collect.

Exercise machines from Evolution Fitness are lined up inside the space, and signs on the windows advertise membership deals. A manager had said Evolution would be open at 711 Madison on April 2. But it didn’t.

Calls to the gym Friday afternoon haven’t been returned.

The property, just east of Oak Park Avenue on the south side of Madison, once housed Foley-Rice Cadillac’s main operations. It’s sat vacant since the dealership shut down in October 2007, when they closed, citing rising property taxes and slumping sales.

The land is owned by Stephen X. Foley Sr. and his family, who also operate dealerships in Northbrook and Marion.

Terry Rice, co-owner of the defunct local dealership, is asking Oak Park for relief from the agreement to get some temporary income while searching for a buyer.

“Foley-Rice has always intended to pay the money back, but we haven’t been able to sell the properties yet,” Rice said.

The background

The Village of Oak Park gave Foley-Rice $400,000 in TIF (tax increment financing) money in 2005 as part of a business retention agreement to stop them from relocating. The agreement specified that 711 Madison remain a premium car dealership until 2012. But with the eroding state of the American auto market, Rice said that’s nearly impossible.

“The car business has deteriorated so much in the past year, that it’s never going to happen; there’s just no way,” Rice said. “The manufacturers are in dire straits.”

After Foley-Rice closed in 2007, the village wanted its money back, and Rice said he’d oblige.

In October 2007, village officials told Wednesday Journal that they planned to let Foley-Rice out of the agreement just as soon as the TIF money was paid. But more than a year and a half after the dealership closed, the money is still owed.

Evolution Fitness applied for a business license in Oak Park last month. According to Bob Clements, Oak Park’s redevelopment manager, the village can’t issue one for 711 Madison until the $400,000 is paid.

Attorneys for the village and the dealership are working to resolve the situation, Clements said. In the meantime, Oak Park is trying to help Evolution Fitness find another location.

Clements said the leasing agent was aware of the agreement, and that the gym was stuck in the middle.

“It’s not fair and we’re trying to do what we can to help,” Clements said.

A call to the leasing agent last week wasn’t returned by press time.

Rice said the gym was told from the start about the money owed to the village. The dealership wants to enter a short-term lease to get some temporary income. The pending lease, written between the gym and property owner, would have a 60-day out clause in case they sold the property.

The hang-up

Village Manager Tom Barwin said he’s waiting to see a plan for repayment from the property owner and a written request to break from the agreement. That would go to the village board for consideration whenever it’s received, he said.

“If it’s any kind of a reasonable, good faith effort of explaining the circumstances, then I would expect a reasonable response from the board,” Barwin said. “I’m prepared to facilitate and expedite the conversation.”

Village President David Pope declined to comment last week. In an October 2007 interview with the Journal, Pope spoke strongly about not breaking the business retention agreement unless the dealership paid back the $400,000.

“Terry wants to repay every nickel because he is an honorable guy,” Pope said then.

Evolution Fitness is being displaced from its former location at 7321 Madison in Forest Park because an Oak Park consulting company, Icomm Consulting, is moving into the space.

Formerly on North Boulevard, the telecommunications company will swell from 4,000 square feet to 8,600 and from 30 to 45 employees.

A gym manager last month confirmed that Evolution Fitness was moving to 711 Madison, expecting to open April 2, but the gym declined to make further comment.

Forest Park Review Editor Josh Adams contributed to this report.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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