All natural: The grassroots Sugar Beet co-op has sponsored events and education efforts. Now it's moving toward a bricks-and-mortar store. (File)

Things are moving quickly with the proposed Sugar Beet food cooperative, and members of the organization say they are in final negotiations with a Realtor for a 10-year lease somewhere within the Madison Street tax increment financing district.

Tom Hollinden, a core committee member of the co-op, told members of the village board’s Economic Development Committee Monday that the co-op still needs to raise $1.6 million to get the store opened. Hollinden said in an interview with Wednesday Journal that the prospective location is somewhere on Madison Street, but he declined to give an exact location.

“We’re in negotiations but we don’t have a signed lease,” he said, noting that he expects the lease to be signed by January 2014.

He said the organization will seek a contribution from the area’s Madison Street TIF district, but it’s uncertain how much the group will request.

Sugar Beet will launch a capital campaign early next year, and Hollinden told board members that the group already has pledges of 10 percent of the donations needed toward the $1.6 million. 

“We have the ability to do member loans with members of the co-op,” he said, noting that the organization would also seek loans from traditional lending institutions, as well as the village. Former village trustee Greg Marsey, who is a member of the co-op, told the board that the store would be “one of the few [TIF] projects that is truly a community project” because it will be owned and supported largely by Oak Park residents.

“It seems to me Madison Street is an exercise in reclaiming one corner at a time,” Marsey said. “I hope this project could reclaim that corner.”

Village board members roundly supported the concept of the food co-op, but Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said the group has to show how the project will improve the area.

“If we’re going to give you X amount of money, how does that give back to the community?” he asked.

Hollinden tells Wednesday Journal that the group expects to return early next year with a formal request for the TIF funds. He declined to detail the amount the group will request. He said co-op members hope to have the grocery store open as early as late 2014 or early 2015. 

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