Greg Sorg says he loves the Village of Oak Park. He has friends at village hall, and he served on a local commission for nearly a decade. But he’s reached a boiling point.
Frustrated over the extended period of time it took to buy a tiny, seven-space parking lot on North Boulevard from the village, he sent an angry letter to the village manager, elected officials and local newspapers.
After he bought the lot from village hall in 2009, Sorg has been renting the seven spaces back to the municipality. But he claims that Oak Park has been lax in adhering to the agreement – not reporting how much the lot is earning and acting too slowly to plow the snow on it.
“I have tried to forgive the village for ignoring this small parking lot and retail space time and time again while working on bigger projects in ‘ritzier’ locations in the village, but it is coming to the point of no return,” Sorg wrote in his April 11 letter.
On the other side, the village says it hasn’t been paying anything to Sorg, as spelled out in the rental agreement, because the lot has been running at a deficit. And despite Sorg’s claims, village records show that the lot was plowed, said Cara Pavlicek, interim parking manager for the village.
“They plow what they can when they get into the lot, and when it’s full of cars, you end up with snow they can’t get to,” she said.
Sorg, 38, first told the village about his interest in the parking lot at 2 North Blvd. about four years ago. He owns a building right next to it, at 408 N. Austin, and was hoping to redevelop it as an eatery; he says Potbelly and Dunkin’ Donuts expressed interest in the location.
The village board approved the sale of the lot in July 2007 for $55,000. But the sale didn’t end up closing until April 2009, with the final price dropping to $45,000.
Village Manager Tom Barwin said the closing was delayed for various reasons – from getting appraisals of the property, to soliciting bids, to figuring out the arrangement for Oak Park to rent back the lot. Sorg also asked to drop the sale price when the economy swooned, complicating matters.
Also with that swoon and the delayed closing, Sorg says he lost any interest from tenants. He plans to use the Austin Boulevard property as office space until the economy gets better.
“Once we got the parking lot together, by then, everyone had run for the hills, which isn’t their fault necessarily,” Sorg said. “Bad timing is bad timing, but it shouldn’t have taken three years to get to the closing.”
Sorry to bother you but I have no one else to pester about this. I bought this parking lot from the village exactly 1 year ago and leased it back to the village at the village’s request. Rent payments are due from the village quarterly and to-date I have received nothing from the Village. The deal between the Village and me was essentially for us to split the net proceeds 50/50 on the lot, however I believe the village is trying to say that our deal was for the village to pay rent equal to 50% of the rental income offset by 100% of the expenses associated with the property–which really defies logic and the contract–not to mention the original intent of our agreement which was to try to encourage a new business while accommodating residents and village parking needs.
I have talked to parking dept personnel, business services personnel and others at village hall about this time and time again and it never goes anywhere. The last time I talked with a village hall rep they said I should probably just talk to you (so here I am). I believe it may be stuck in legal for an interpretation of the lease, but this has been the case for about a year now, which is kind of ridiculous.
I have been very patient, but this is a severe inconvenience to me. Can you please do something to get this resolved once and for all?
I walked into Village Hall almost 4 years ago with a concrete plan to vastly improve this site (the parking lot and the adjacent building) and was met with enthusiastic support. We had interest in our site from Potbelly, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, and our own Village-entrepreneurs over the course of the first 3 years of this process. I and my partner had grand plans for our own endeavor as well. Mike Kelly at Park National Bank had committed to finance the project with our equity at play and no village subsidies requested. And while the Village took forever to sell us the critical piece–the parking lot, we watched these tenants go to other parts of the Village and/or not come to the Village at all. It has been an excruciating period of just under 4 years! Yes, 4 years (made up of 3 years to close and another year of no response)!!!
I have let go my frustration over the slowness to purchase the lot which inevitably cost us our quality tenants in what is an area that sorely needs help. The Village is a government body that traditionally works slowly–I get it. I forgave the fact the village was ticketing my car in my own parking lot while they took forever to get the signage changed. The Village is a big organization that takes a long time to get things done and doesn’t communicate well between departments–I get that too. I was frustrated by the fact that I had to call the Village this winter to plow the lot 2 days after the snow storms to get them to live up to the terms of the agreement. Maybe the Village forgot they still need to service the lot–I don’t know what caused this. I have tried to forgive the Village for ignoring this small parking lot and retail space time and time again while working on bigger projects in ‘ritzier’ locations in the Village , but it is coming to the point of no return.
I thought I was on good terms with the Village. I thought I was trying to do good in a neglected part of the Village. I thought the Village was excited to help our vision. But it is clear that is not the case. So as Aldi has left, and the bank building on the corner of Lake and Austin has become overrun with drug trade and drug abuse (this is not a base-less observation–I witness it daily in broad daylight); as Blockbuster vacated from Lombard and Lake and the Dance company on Lake has vacated I hear my neighbors voice concern over the future of the neighborhood. I have kept my mouth shut about my travails in trying to improve the area, but I have lost patience.
To offer some balance, I will say that to my surprise, the building dept did an excellent job moving our plans and permits through the process expeditiously, and thus far has been easy to work with. Also the public works dept has been extremely responsive to our needs.
Please do something. Legal recourse is a waste of my savings and a waste of my tax dollars. I have no accounting of the income or expenses at this lot for any period of time that I have owned it. I have no correspondence from the Village in response to my numerous inquiries. I can’t imagine that a court or a judge would not agree that the Village has been negligent in its obligations, but I do not think we should even have to go to court to settle such a small matter. This is a small lot, a small amount of money, a small inconvenience for the Village, but a large inconvenience for us. Let’s just get this done!
I am copying the Board, the press, and my attorney on this email. As you will recall I had previously stated my intent not to involve other parties but I have been left with no other option. My hope is that the Board and/or the press might be as appalled by this lack of service and support and general negligence as I am at this point and move you into action once and for all. I also am confident that your employees will corroborate my timelines and details of what has transpired (or not transpired) to-date.
I love our Village. I like you and most of the people at Village Hall personally, which may be the reason why I have been too patient and allowed this to go for so long. I don’t know. I do know that 3 years to close on the purchase and another year of the Village’s delinquency under the terms of the lease is nothing less than a crime to me and to our corner of this great Village.
Now I know why we have such a hard time attracting and retaining businesses in this Village. Even if it is usually only half this hard for a new business it would drive most sane people away.
Call, email, fax, or text me any time. -greg