Harken Health, an upstart health care and health insurance provider operating in Chicago and Atlanta could be headed to Oak Park’s iconic Marshall Field’s building at 1144 Lake St.

The Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals approved a zoning variance that would allow the building’s owner, Nicholas Karris of Water Tower Realty, to lease the space to the health care provider. Current zoning requires shops along Lake Street to be retail-oriented to attract shoppers to the commercial corridor.

The building has been vacant since Borders bookstore left in 2011, and Karris told the zoning board that he’s “struggled tremendously” to find a replacement tenant.

“We have actively marketed the property with multiple brokerage firms and have worked closely with local organizations to find new tenants that fit on this prime corner within downtown Oak Park,” Karris said in a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Karris did not respond to Wednesday Journal’s requests for an interview.

The plan would put Harken on the north side of the 13,000-square-foot space with an entrance facing Harlem Avenue.

Harken Health describes itself as a “new kind of health care company that unites relationship-based primary care with flexible and competitively priced health insurance in a membership-based model.”

Representatives from the company could not be reached for comment.

The company has 10 locations in Atlanta and Chicago and was described in a Chicago Tribune story in October 2015 as a holistic health care system that President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act encourages. Harken opened locations in Des Plaines, Edgewater, South Loop and Wicker Park late last year and began accepting new clients in January.

The zoning variance, which still new needs approval from the village board of trustees, isn’t the first effort by Karris to move a nonconforming business into the Transit-Related Retail Overlay District.

In 2014, Karris aimed to rent the space to Ultimate Fighting Championship Gym, but it is unclear why the gym never opened. Even then, Karris argued that he had found it difficult to find a tenant.

He now says bringing Harken Health in to the building will attract others.

“Once this tenant is in place, a workable space plan will be determined for the entire floor, so we can restart talks with signature restaurant and retail users who have expressed interest in the remaining corner and Lake Street frontage space,” Karris said in a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals. “We are optimistic that we can reach a deal quickly once the rear portion of the first floor is occupied.”

The proposal was supported at the zoning board meeting by the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, which is tasked with bringing and retaining business development to the village.

OPEDC’s Viktor Schrader said the economic development group has explored many concepts for the site but has been unable to find a tenant. 

“We’ve considered the space in a number of different ways,” he said, adding that the group is trying to “make that large box a little more manageable.” 

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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