With the recent sale of a long-vacant building to a local grocer, Oak Park is gradually working its way out of the property management business. But much work remains before the village is completely out of the game.
Oak Park is receiving proposals today, July 15, for a commercial real estate broker to market some or all of its properties.
“We’ve tried to learn from our experience,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin. “We’re divesting from properties as we can. Hopefully, some of the property that has been land-banked will result in good tax-base building projects.”
The village bought 828 S. Oak Park Ave. in 2001. Contrary to cases where Oak Park bought properties in its downtown and on Madison Street to help spur development, 828 was purchased to prevent a tenant from moving in.
According to Bob Clements, redevelopment manager, Oak Park wanted to prevent a social-service agency from moving into 828 because it didn’t serve residents of Oak Park.
The village considered building a garage on the space, just north of Harrison, but the idea never came to fruition. It has been empty since an art gallery vacated it in 2004.
Oak Park announced it would put the property on the market in late 2006. The village had a prospective buyer offering $400,000 in September of 2007. But the sale was delayed because the village needed to remediate an underground oil tank, which cost $7,000. Asbestos also was removed, at a cost of $7,000.
Meanwhile, the economy crashed and the bidder, Louis Scannicchio, dropped his offer. So Oak Park put the property back on the market last fall, and Scannicchio and Pan’s both offered the minimum bid of $325,000.
The village board approved the sale to Pan’s last week, which is contingent upon the grocer getting zoning approval to knock down the structure and build a parking lot.
Clements said Oak Park was not paying property taxes or a mortgage for the property. So not counting any rent from the gallery, Oak Park lost about $40,000 on the sale.
“I’m extremely disturbed by this scenario, but again, as I’ve said before, it’s easy to second guess or question people who aren’t here anymore,” said Barwin, who joined the village in 2006.
Despite economic factors over the past few years, he wishes the village had moved the properties back on to the market more quickly.
“There’s always going to be variables out there in the economy, but in general, we’ve just let some sit for seven or eight years, and it’s ridiculous,” he said.
To help unload more properties, the village has sent out a request for a commercial broker to market some or all of its properties. The responses are due today, and Barwin hopes to bring a recommendation to the board by the end of this month.
Other properties that will eventually be unloaded include a former Volvo dealership on Madison, an empty lot at Madison and Oak Park Avenue and a handful of properties on Lake and Westgate.
Oak Park has had some success in unloading properties, including two parking lots at Madison and Highland ($1.15 million), a home near Barrie Park ($100,000) and a parking lot on North Boulevard ($45,000).
“All of that activity has been intended to … put those properties back into private hands and to facilitate reinvestment in our community, as well as increased vibrancy in our retail districts,” said Village President David Pope.
So could the village ever see itself shifting back into acquisition mode again?
Trustee Ray Johnson said Oak Park isn’t going on a property-buying binge any time soon because prices are flat, but he wouldn’t rule out the idea.
“I still think there are appropriate times for the village to purchase properties when there’s a broader strategic goal that the village is trying to implement,” he said. “I think the problem in our history is that we haven’t moved from that strategic phase to implementation quickly enough.”
“I certainly don’t expect the village to shift into property acquisition mode anytime in the foreseeable future,” Pope said.
Barwin said these things run in cycles but it will be a long time before Oak Park starts buying.
“If the community remains strong and healthy and vibrant, I can’t really see a need to enter that mode, for at least a decade,” Barwin said.
Clements said if the village ever enters acquisition mode again, it needs to budget to spend money managing its properties, which wasn’t done in the past. He says the turnover in village boards every two years has made it difficult to unload properties.
“If people carry over who don’t believe in the same polices, then what?” he said.
Those interviewed for this story emphasized the importance of having a plan in place for how to use properties.
“Irrespective of what one’s opinion may be regarding property acquisitions that have occurred over the past couple decades, we should all feel good about the fact hat effective plans have been put in place over the past five or six years that have now helped us to sell these properties back into the private market,” Pope said.