Despite relative public silence in recent years, the Village of Oak Park continues talking to two Chicago developers about the possibility of building two high-profile projects in its main shopping district.
Those projects appeared to be on the fast track four or five years ago, but came to a screeching halt when the economy went sour. However, village officials say those developments are still very much alive, and Oak Park hopes it can reach an agreement to build on parking lots at Harlem and South Boulevard, and Lake Street just east of Harlem.
“The village was extremely impressed with both of those groups, and building a development has gone through a cycle of being ice cold,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin. “This isn’t anything that would be attributed to either of those groups in terms of delays. In fact, I think they’re positioned nicely to come out of this recession with a roar.”
The village board OK’d an agreement last week to keep retiring Village Attorney Ray Heise on retainer, at $135 an hour for up to 300 hours per year. And one item on the list of projects he’ll work on is advising the village on projects such as those proposed by Morningside Equities Group and Clark Street Development, according to village documents.
Morningside was picked by the village in a competitive process in 2006 to reinvent the parking lot at the southeast corner of Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard. They proposed building an eight-story building with 96 condos and first-floor retail. But the project was delayed indefinitely in the spring of 2008, as the housing market crashed.
Oak Park, however, continues to talk with Morningside behind the scenes. Mary Ellen Martin, Morningside’s vice president, confirmed the firm’s continued interest. She said Morningside is proposing to switch the development to apartments, while the amount of retail space and parking is still in flux.
No timeline has been placed on the conversations. But Martin believes the rental market is strong, as Morningside just completed a 60-unit apartment building in downtown Des Plaines that’s fully occupied.
Oak Park picked another Chicago group, Clark Street Development, in 2008to build on the former Colt building site, now a Lake Street parking lot. But Clark Street’s partner in the project — Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities, which was to develop 196 apartments on the site — dropped out in early 2009.
Andrew Stein, a principal for Clark Street, could not be reached for comment on Monday. But according to Village Trustee John Hedges — who along with President David Pope has helped keep an eye on the two stalled projects — Clark Street is continuing to seek a partner to complete the residential portion of the development, while also considering whether it should build a retail-only project.
No timeline has been set on any of the discussions, according to village officials. But Hedges said he hopes they can come to some sort of conclusion by year’s end.
It has been four or five years since the projects were first proposed. Pope said it’s possible that Oak Park could, at some point, launch a new competitive process to test the waters and see who’s interested again. He believes there has been increased interest in Oak Park, but any decision to reboot would be up to the entire village board.
At this point, Morningside and Clark Street still seem like possible partners.
“I think both of them are good developers, and I think it’s in our best interest to keep working with them,” Hedges said.