It’s been almost a year since the Oak Park Board of Trustees chose Jupiter Realty as the preferred developer for a mixed-use development on Madison Street that would transform the commercial corridor from Oak Park Avenue to Wesley avenues.
But both the village and the developer have been largely silent on the project over the last 11 months.
The issue has become a sticking point for some trustees elected earlier this year who are now positioned to vote on potential funding related to the project. The topic was brought up during a recent vote on the village’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which sets a guide for village spending in 2018.
Three of the seven trustees – Simone Boutet, Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney – voted against the CIP in mid-October, citing the $13 million included in the spending plan for the Madison project, as part of the reason for their objection.
That project not only would construct various residential and commercial buildings along both sides of the 600 and 700 blocks of Madison Street, it also would bend a portion of the road between Euclid and Wesley avenues to make room for an anchor tenant, which is expected to be a large retailer such as a grocery store.
That anchor tenant is central to the proposal, but Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said in an interview with Wednesday Journal that two prospective grocers – Mariano’s and Jewel – both showed interest in the location but ultimately chose not to sign on for the project.
The project is made possible by the village’s ownership of a surface parking lot at the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street. Although Jupiter has been working to purchase or control other parcels of land along Madison Street for the project, it is uncertain whether the company has moved forward with purchasing any of the properties needed to move the project forward.
Among those parcels is a property just east of the parking lot, long occupied by Car-X Tire & Auto, 700 Madison St., which the board of trustees voted unanimously to purchase for $1.3 million in September. The decision by the board to purchase that property suggests that Jupiter is not ready to pull the trigger on land acquisition for the project just yet.
Jupiter executive vice president Jerry J. Ong did not return calls requesting an interview.
The financing of the mega-project is facing a difficult timeline with the expiration of the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district in December 2018. Village planners are hoping to use the TIF funds to help pay some of the costs of the project.
Abu-Taleb acknowledged that the timing is difficult, and while not ideal, he said the village should consider extending the life of the TIF. Such an extension would add 12 additional years to the life of the TIF. Any TIF extension would require the buy-in of other local taxing bodies.
Abu-Taleb noted that something has to be done to help the Madison property in the area slated for development, which are underperforming in their contribution to the property tax base, generating a combined estimated $140,000 a year in property tax revenue. “It’s not fair to the other properties (which contribute more to Oak Park’s tax bill),” he said.
If the TIF expires next year without the village spending the current TIF funds, the balance will be split up and sent back to the village’s various taxing bodies.
Although the project appears to be in peril absent an anchor tenant, Abu-Taleb said village planners and the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation are still working to attract another anchor.
He said that although a deal does not appear imminent, things could change quickly and soon.
Abu-Taleb said he understands the frustration over the shortage of information on the status of the project, but urged the public to be patient.
He used a baseball analogy to explain the situation: “The bases are loaded and we have two outs (Mariano’s and Jewel), but we could have a home run next week.”
Abu-Taleb later added: “We’re only in the third inning.”