Downtown Oak Park is getting closer to having a hotel, as the village board, following recommendation by the Zoning Board of Appeals, granted a special-use permit, Nov. 18, authorizing the operation of a 98-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites hotel at 1140 Lake St.
Salim Hemani, who co-owns the property with his brother Azim, spoke on behalf of the project to the zoning board on Nov. 6.
“Being in this local market for the last 30 years around the Chicagoland area and being in the businesses, we have found the need for a hotel in this area,” he said.
Hemani brought the project’s architect and a representative from Holiday Inn to the meeting.
“We went to Holiday Inn for the franchise application and they’re very eager and wanted to put this project up,” said Hemani.
According to Hemani, the current five-story structure is 40 percent vacant. Plans for the quick service hotel include constructing three additional floors on top of the building, extending its current height of 52 feet to 80 feet. The first floor will remain a commercial space with a small hotel greeting desk.
The second floor, which connects by bridge to the village-owned Holley Court parking garage, will act as the primary hotel entrance, with check-in and meeting rooms available for guest use. There will also be eight guest rooms, four of which will have a king-size bed. The other four will be queen suites. Each queen suite consists of two queen-size beds.
Floors three through five have the same layout with eight kings, one king suite, five queen suites and one accessible queen suite for a total of 15 rooms per floor.
Floors six through eight, the planned new floors, will also have 15 rooms on each floor, with two queen suites, one accessible queen suite and 12 king suites. The top three floors share the same layout.
The Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites signage will hang outside the new floors, with assurances that it will not overwhelm the building. The façade of the original five floors will stay essentially the same but with refurbished limestone facing. The hotel will have central air instead of window units.
Perhaps the biggest concern from community members regarded deliveries made to the hotel. Trucks would deposit deliveries on Prairie Way, an extremely narrow alley behind the building.
“One of the ongoing issues that we have in the alley behind our building is we can’t even get out of our building because there are delivery trucks there,” said Dave Lehman, who lives in the neighboring condominium complex.
“The issue is very simple. That’s why we chose a limited service hotel,” said architect Barkat Virani. “There is no food, there is no bar. That’s when the deliveries generally go up one hell of a lot.”
Virani said the hotel, once in operation, would likely only receive deliveries once a month. He also said, even though Holiday Inn Express and Suites locations do provide continental breakfasts to guests, the deliveries would primarily consist of guest toiletries.
“All due respect, I find it hard to believe that an 85-plus-room hotel will only require one delivery a month,” said Marcia Lehman, Dave’s wife. “The residents simply, more often than not, cannot get out of our building and that is just a function of the way the alley is built.”
FFC gym owner Jeff Long worried that hotel guests would take over the village-owned Holley Court parking garage, leaving gym patrons with nowhere to park.
According to Village Planner Craig Failor, Holley Court has a capacity to hold 1,200 cars and is currently operating at 75 percent.
Long also expressed disbelief about the hotel’s delivery schedule. “There’s also no way you’re only going to have one delivery a month when you have breakfast every day,” he said. “I have a small café in my club, and we get deliveries at least twice a week.”
Other community members expressed concerns that the hotel would add to Lake Street traffic.
The zoning board voted to recommend, agreeing all public concerns related to traffic fell under the village’s authority.
At the Nov. 18 village board meeting, traffic, delivery and parking concerns were brought up again. Azim Hemani told the board they’re working with Sysco to ensure a food delivery time of either late at night or very early in the morning.
Carleton Hotel owner Mike Fox told the board he believes in the free market and is not against the proposed Holiday Inn but believes it unfair that the Carleton has to pay for guest parking, when the Holiday Inn would not have to.
“Things are slow for us. Everybody loves to be at the magic number of 70 percent occupancy. We haven’t been there for years,” said Fox. He expects the Carleton’s occupancy to hit 46 percent occupancy for 2019.
The Carleton was required to purchase more parking when the hotel added extra rooms in 1999. The real estate taxes on the Carleton’s parking lots have skyrocketed in the years since their purchase. “I looked it up today. I knew it was big; our lots average between $9,800 and $16,000 per lot a year,” said Fox.
“I wish we had more rational people like you, Mike, out there,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
After additional questioning from the board to both Failor and Azim Hemani, the board voted to grant the special-use permit. Trustee Arti Peddakotla-Walker cast the sole dissenting vote.
“Like Mike, I believe in the free market,” said Abu-Taleb. “I believe small businesses take a lot of risk to invest in communities and neighborhoods. I believe businesses are the soul of a community, of a neighborhood, and I think we, as a board, and staff need to be as supportive as possible of these assets for our village. And I definitely would welcome you to our village, as long as you commit to being a good neighbor and you’re going to hold onto that asset.”