After more than five long years, Lake and Lathrop is officially off the ground.

River Forest trustees on March 23 night approved an agreement that sets into motion construction of a five-story, mixed-used development by Keystone Ventures, owned by River Forest resident Tim Hague.

If all goes according to plan, by the fall of 2018 the $20 million project — with businesses on the ground floor and four floors of residential on top plus on-site parking at and below grade — will be completed.

“This is a cause for celebration,” said Village President Catherine Adduci, who along with trustees Susan Conti and Mike Gibbs were on the village board when the village tapped Keystone Ventures to redevelop that area in 2010.

In an email, Trustee Carmela Corsini also supported the plan. 

“I wish to express my enthusiastic support of the [development] and extend my thanks to our Village Administrator Eric Palm, our village attorneys Lance Malina and Greg Smith for their diligence and hard work, and to all of the village board members both past and present, who have had the vision and drive to continue pursuing the redevelopment of this site.”

Since its inception, the enterprise has been hampered by stops and starts, obstacles and a bad economy. But in the past six months, as negotiations between the village and Hague got off the ground, it has been pegged as the anchor of the East Lake Street Business District and a vital component in the overall development of River Forest’s downtown. 

“[Getting the agreement done] is important as we continue to look at how we … create a spot in the center of our community that residents can be proud of. This is a great start to all of that,” Adduci said.

What has to be done and when are set out in the redevelopment agreement. By June 14, Hague must submit an application to start the planned development process. 

By Sept. 30, he must purchase the three parcels he’ll need for the project: 7601-13 Lake St., owned by the estate of Ed Ditchfield; 7617-21 Lake St., property owned by Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar; and 423 Ashland Ave., a parcel owned by Forest Park National Bank.

Hague also will have to buy out the leases of all the tenants and perform other due diligence, tasks that are not included in the redevelopment agreement.

By the end of April 2017, the Ditchfield and ElSaffar properties will have to be remediated to clean up contaminated soil. After that is concluded, Hague will have 18 months to build the project. 

The first intent is that the residential units, to be handled by Inland National Development Corp. of Oak Brook, will be owner-occupied; rental apartments will be the fallback position. 

“I’m glad to be at this point,” Hague said.

When Keystone ventures was tapped as the preferred developer six years ago, $1.9 million from the closed Lake Street TIF was at his disposal for cleanup and land acquisition. 

An agreement for use of those funds had been extended three times. In late December 2015, trustees approved a fourth extension; this one expiring on March 31.

Over the years, a big issue during discussions with Ditchfield was cleanup of the contamination on the site. As far back as 2001, the state EPA found that the property, parkway and the street around the site, was contaminated with carcinogenic dry-cleaning chemicals. 

That property has housed a dry cleaner since 1922. Ditchfield operated River Forest Cleaners on the site.

In 2013, Ditchfield settled a long-standing lawsuit with Forest Park National Bank to dig up and remove contaminated soil on the site of an adjacent two-flat at 449 Ashland Ave., which was owned by the bank. The building has been demolished and the property cleaned up. 

In late 2014, the village unsuccessfully offered to help Ditchfield remediate his own property by offering some of the closed Lake Street TIF funds to do the work. Ditchfield never came back with a counter-offer; negotiations ended late in 2014.

In an attempt to move the Lake and Lathrop effort ahead, the village last year created a business district from Lathrop Avenue west to Ashland Avenue, which officials said could allow them to take more aggressive steps, including declaring eminent domain, to get the project off the ground. 

The village could still use eminent domain to acquire any parcel that is not sold to Hague by Sept. 30, according to the redevelopment agreement.

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