‘Tis the season for lists and as 2015 comes to a close, we’re remembering — some fondly and others not so much — the top stories of the year.

Multi-story residential real-estate development again topped the headlines over the last 12 months, while the arrival of several new grocery stores, the departure of a beloved fast-food restaurant and the purchase of the derelict Kleronomos properties on Harrison Street also captured the attention of Oak Parkers in 2015.

Development galore

Oak Park’s skyline started to look a little different this year with the construction of Vantage Oak Park, the 21-story, mixed-use development on the northeast corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue. 

Developers held a “topping off” ceremony in September, marking the completion of the top story of the building that will eventually include 270 luxury apartments, 25,000 square feet of retail space, and a 588-space parking garage. Developer Golub & Co. said the residential units are expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2016.

Vantage could have some competition right across the street with a proposed eight-story apartment building — 140 units and 195 parking spaces — at 1000 Lake St. by UrbanStreet Group. The developer made the proposal public in February and said the plans are preliminary but the scale is pretty well set.

Those aren’t the only mid-rise towers planned for Lake Street. Just a few blocks west near Harlem Avenue, work began on the massive Oak Park Station development (the former Colt building site, now a parking lot), a 20-story, 271-unit, mixed-use development with a five-story parking garage and 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space. The village has contributed $7 million in funds and land — two village-owned parking lots — to the $85 million project that is expected to be completed by March 2017.

Also, just south of the Oak Park Station development, Lincoln Property Company is planning a 12-story, mixed-use apartment building along South Boulevard. The development includes 263 apartments, 398 parking spaces and 10,000 square feet of retail. The Oak Park Plan Commission recently balked at the design, however, so the developers may be giving the proposal a new look.

Grocery stores flourish

Four new grocery stores opened in Oak Park over the last year, and one of them — Chicago-based Pete’s Fresh Market — received a $1.5 million subsidy from the village. Pete’s missed a deadline to open in May and received daily fines up until its opening on Sept. 2. The store took the place of the former Dominick’s, which closed in December 2013. 

Oak Park got its first co-op this year with the opening of Sugar Beet Food Co-op in August, also with the village’s help. The village allocated $250,000 in funds from the Madison Street TIF (Tax Increment Finance) District. Co-op organizers raised $800,000 to gain access to the TIF funds as part of the deal with the village. The village also stipulated that they repay $50,000 to the TIF fund over several years.

Longtime Pan’s grocery store at 824 S. Oak Park Ave. was purchased by, and rebranded as, Carnival Foods after it was purchased in late 2014. North Avenue also got a new grocery store when Market Fresh Foods, 6209 W. North Ave., opened in February. The arrival of the grocery store followed a seven-month vacancy after North Avenue Fresh Market closed.

Arts District, Kleronomos and La Majada

In October, Harrison Street Ventures LLC purchased six buildings in foreclosure in the Oak Park Arts District, several of which had sat vacant and in derelict condition for years.

Community organizers and neighbors pleaded for years with owner Chris Kleronomos to repair and occupy his buildings, which have been a blight on the struggling arts business district that runs along Harrison Street from Austin to Elmwood. 

Mona Navitsky, a partner with Harrison Street Ventures, said her group plans to rehab the unoccupied properties and get them back on the market.

It was learned later in November that Kleronomos was able to maintain a minority ownership in the properties but will no longer have any say on how the buildings are managed.

The Oak Park Arts District got more good news this year with the sale of the vacant La Majada restaurant building at 226 Harrison St. in July. Oak Park-based Brand & Co. principle Adam Friedberg said the 6,000-square-foot building could be another restaurant or subdivided into separate storefronts.

Tasty no more

It was the end of the road for the popular fast-food restaurant Tasty Dog, when a Cook County judge ordered it to close its doors on Sept. 14.

Going to the restaurant was a tradition for Oak Park and River Forest High School students, so much so that when the original Tasty Dog — located across the street from its final home at 708 Lake St. — was threatened with closure, the Village of Oak Park purchased the property across the street and became the restaurant’s landlord.

Tasty Dog’s owner, Michael Barton, stopped paying rent to the village in January and was served with a termination of tenancy notice on May 12. At that point, Barton owed $40,525 in rent and fees. To make matters worse, the restaurant owed $244,295 in real estate taxes.

John Lynch, executive director of the Oak Park Economic Development Corp., said a request for proposals put out in November attracted plans from about a dozen developers, a few of which would demolish the restaurant and put in a high-density, mixed-use development. Lynch is expected to present OPEDC’s recommended proposal in early 2016.

Mack and Schaefer convicted of murder

In April, Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer were convicted in an Indonesian court of murdering Mack’s mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, who was bludgeoned to death. Mack, who was 19 at the time of the 2014 murder, is now serving 10 years in an Indonesian prison. Schaeffer received an 18-year sentence. The couple could have faced a firing squad for their criminal act.

 The story made international headlines after von Wiese-Mack was found dead in a suitcase in the trunk of a taxi outside a luxury hotel in Bali in 2014. Mack and her mother, both former Oak Park residents, were vacationing there when Schaefer, an OPRF High School graduate, arrived and helped Mack commit the murder. 

In September, Schaefer’s cousin, Ryan Justin Bibbs, was charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to murder Mack’s mother by giving the couple advice on how to get away with the murder. The plan, prosecutors said, was to kill her for her substantial inheritance. 

Text messages released by the U.S. Justice Department showed the couple had already once attempted to murder von Wiese-Mack.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Top 10 online news stories of 2015

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