Oak Park officials gathered near the corner of South Boulevard and South Maple Avenue on Thursday, Aug. 24, to mark the official groundbreaking of Oak Park’s newest residential development.
The 11-story mixed-use apartment building by Lincoln Property Company will include 263 residential units, 10,000 square feet of retail space and a 400-space parking garage. The project is estimated to cost about $80 million.
Oak Park trustees, village staff and Illinois Sen. Don Harmon, among others, attended the ceremonial event that marks the beginning of construction for the third major residential development built in Oak Park over the last couple of years.
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb lauded the development, comparing it to the nearby Emerson Apartments development just across the Green Line tracks, which, like the Lincoln development, was built on village-owned surface parking lots.
“Isn’t it great to see what has become of that vacant lot – to see the jobs, the new neighbors and the vitality it’s bringing to our community,” Abu-Taleb said.
He noted that Lincoln paid $1.1 million for the two parking lots near Harlem and that the developer is building five affordable units and contributing $700,000 to the village’s affordable housing fund.
The building, once completed, is estimated to bring the village $900,000 in annual property and sales tax revenue, Abu-Taleb said.
“Projects of this scale can go a long way toward easing the tax burden on homeowners who do the heavy lifting for our tax base,” he said.
The project is expected to take about two years to complete and add 500 new residents to the village.
Although elected officials and Lincoln Property Company executives were all smiles at the groundbreaking event, the project appeared stalled earlier this year, when the Oak Park Board of Trustees voted to begin fining the company $75,000 a month if it did not begin construction by June 29.
Despite the deadline conflict, Lincoln began preliminary work on time and avoided the fines. Joe Segobiano, director of development for Lincoln, said at the groundbreaking that it was a smooth process working with the village.
“We vetted it with the public and talked a lot with the local neighbors and overall we were very, very happy with the process,” he said as cranes and construction equipment began moving dirt on the site behind him. “We think at the end of the day the outcome was fair for both us as the developer as well as the community of Oak Park.”
Several Oak Park trustees were on hand to witness the groundbreaking, several of whom were elected or appointed to the village board earlier this year.
“I’m just glad to see that lot being used – it’s been years,” said Trustee Jim Taglia. “I remember when it was a vacant lot and there was an Arby’s and whatever else was there.”
Trustee Deno Andrews said he also remembered the Arby’s and two other shops at the location that closed down decades ago.
“When those three left it was a troubled corner for decades,” he said. “I think that a transit-oriented development on this corner is a no-brainer. I think it’s going to be a great addition to the neighborhood and it’s certainly going to add some vibrancy to downtown.
Andrews said he believes it is the right size, shape, height and concept for the area.
Trustee Dan Moroney noted that since it’s on the other side of the train tracks, the development is not technically downtown.
“The fact that a developer is willing to invest over $80 million in a location that’s offset from the specific downtown area, it’s important to realize that component to this development,” he said.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said that although the village has sold off several of its surface parking lots, it was always the village’s intention to redevelop the properties. “(The parking lots) were sort of placeholders until a development in the village could flip it to the private sector,” she said.
She said parking garages at the Emerson and the Lincoln development will add parking spaces to the area and will be run through a public-private partnership between the owner and the village.
“Probably the more interesting thing that nobody’s paying much attention to is that Emerson and Lincoln are going to be publicly operated private parking garages, and so creating some sense of not having the village be a monopoly in the parking system I think will also force the village to improve its quality,” she said.
Pavlicek said the deal will “create something where you’ll see a private operator deliver public parking, and we’ll learn from what they’re doing and it will be a good thing.”