COVID-19 has not deterred developers from potential investments in the village of Oak Park. Although the plan commission is on hiatus due to the virus, prospective developers have not rescinded any development applications.
“I haven’t had anybody tell me, ‘Oh no, we’re pulling out of the project. We’re not going forward,'” said Tammie Grossman, director of Oak Park Development Customer Services.
Grossman hopes in-person commission meetings will resume by June.
“We’ll wait to see what happens with the COVID-19 crisis and then we’ll make some decisions about how to move forward,” said Grossman.
In the meantime, the village continues to work with developers and process new applications; Grossman would not share any information regarding newly submitted applications.
According to Grossman, developers have been understanding about the slowdown associated with the statewide stay-at-home order, including those associated with Rush Oak Park Hospital’s plans for a new parking garage at the corner of Wenonah Avenue and Madison Street.
“The hospital obviously has their own issues that they’re dealing with related to COVID-19. They’re fine with us waiting,” Grossman said. “They understand the situation.”
The plan commission voted March 5 to recommend the village board approve the construction project; not quite two weeks later, Oak Park issued its shelter-in-place order on March 18. Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a similar statewide order March 20. The Oak Park board of trustees has yet to vote on the project.
The village board has also yet to vote on the planned apartment complex at 435 Madison St.; the plan commission voted not to make a positive recommendation on the complex March 5.
That project’s developers, Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group, has also expressed understanding for the pause in progress.
“They understand that we’re trying to move forward in a way that’s safe for the community and also in a way that respects people’s ability to make public comments and to have a conversation about the development,” said Grossman.
REDICO and American House, whose development application received village board approval in February, has started working on final plans for the construction of its senior residential complex on Madison Street.
“They’re moving forward,” said Grossman. “We’re in conversations with them weekly.”
Pete’s Fresh Market is still working to score the spot directly across Madison Street from where the new senior apartments will sit. The grocery store chain was in the beginning stages of the planned development process when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Cook County.
“They’re waiting to figure out what a new public meeting might look like, but we’re still reviewing everything in the background,” Grossman said.
The village only requires developers to hold one public meeting before starting the plan commission hearing process. However, scheduling hiccups prompted the village of Oak Park to instruct Pete’s to hold additional meetings.
Pete’s held its first meeting on a Friday afternoon in January at the Oak Park main library.
“We felt it didn’t really give people that wanted to be there an opportunity to be there,” said Grossman. “We asked them to schedule a new one, which they did but unfortunately, when they sent the notice out, they missed a few addresses.”
Pete’s had planned to hold a third public meeting, which they had to cancel due to COVID-19.
“We still think they need to hold a public meeting and that everyone entitled to receive notice, receives notice,” Grossman said.
Pete’s has yet to submit a formal application to the village. Once submitted, the village will post the application on its website for public perusal.
COVID-19 has brought economic distress to many in Oak Park, as well as the greater United States. However, the continued interest developers have in investing in Oak Park indicates a strong economic recovery in the village’s post-pandemic future, Grossman believes.
“We are continuing to see construction activity in Oak Park. We are continuing to see new investment,” she said. “We’re processing permit applications just like normal.”
New investment activity comes as a contrast to the nation’s last economic crisis that occurred 10 years ago, dubbed the Great Recession.
“In 2008, 2009 when the economy started to fall, we started seeing developers walk away from projects,” said Grossman. “We’re not seeing that happen at all. We’re seeing people continue to move forward with their developments.”
She called these developments “encouraging signs.”
“I think it’s because people know that Oak Park will come out on the other side of this COVID-19 crisis as a strong, healthy community that people will still want to live in and invest in.”