Pete’s Fresh Market will open its second Oak Park location at Madison and Oak Park Avenue and continues to target Nov. 2022 for the launch. That news came Monday as Oak Park’s village board and Pete’s ownership took next steps in what has been an extended process.

The village board agreed to sell a village owned portion of the site to Pete’s within 30 days which will allow the family-owned grocer to begin complex relocation of various underground utilities essential to preparing the site. In addition the village Monday agreed to pay out $1.65 million to Pete’s to reimburse it for environmental remediation work already completed.

These adjustments to the 2018 redevelopment agreement between the village and Pete’s were approved in 6-1 votes at Monday’s village board meeting.

Asked by Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, the sole no vote on the development changes,  if Pete’s could guarantee that ongoing shortages of workers might slow construction and an opening, Stephanie Dremonas, Pete’s CEO, would offer Walker-Peddakotla no concrete assurances that it would not affect the plans for the Madison Street location.

“I’d be remiss to make promises that I can’t keep,” said Dremonas.

She told the board that the lack of workers has affected the entire Pete’s operation.

 The grocery chain has experienced recent difficulty staffing its existing stores, according to Dremonas, let alone stores not yet built.

“Hiring 180 people from scratch is going to be very difficult,” she said.

Dremonas said there was a possibility the second Oak Park location might not be able to open next year as planned. If the worker shortage continues, she added that it is unlikely any new business, Pete’s or otherwise, will be able to open on time.

“It’s the truth, and I don’t want to lie to anybody,” she said.

Under the revised agreement approved Monday, Pete’s must “commence construction by Jan. 31. Although it is my understanding [that] they will be commencing construction in November with the utility relocation and environmental work,” said Tammie Grossman, development customer services director.

For the property to be transferred and the sale closed, Pete’s is required to provide proof it has the financial capability to start and finish construction. Pete’s has yet to provide that proof. In an email sent after the meeting to Wednesday Journal, Grossman said she is not worried that Pete’s has not submitted financial proof yet as she is “confident that Pete’s has the financial wherewithal to move forward with this project.”

 The Pete’s team is progressing on its second Oak Park store, as Grossman noted in the Oct. 18 village board meeting. It’s original Oak Park store is at Lake Street and Harvey.

“They have been moving along on the process,” Grossman told the board. “A lot of work has been done in the background.”

The delays to the project have been caused by COVID-19, as well as utility companies. Utilities must be relocated before the grocery store can be built, according to Grossman, and Pete’s had been “at the mercy” of the utility companies regarding the utility relocation and its design.

“The parties have reached an agreement on the design and relocation of all the public utilities – AT&T, ComEd, Nicor [Gas] as well as the village’s sewer and water line,” Grossman said.

The redevelopment agreement between the village of Oak Park and Pete’s stipulates, according to Grossman, that the village cannot deny reasonable requests by the grocery store chain to move dates related to development, provided Pete’s has made progress on the project.

“That is the case in this situation,” said Grossman.

She told the board that Pete’s has already met the first three milestones of the RDA: completion of the environmental title survey, submission of their planned development and approval of the planned development.

Pete’s also submitted its full building permit application late last week, which the village needs to approve, according to Grossman.

The village board had no major issues with amending the RDA, aside from Walker-Peddakotla. Prior to voting, Walker-Peddakotla asked Pete’s to guarantee if they could meet the deadlines laid out in the amendment, given the labor shortage and the looming threat of winter weather. With utility work occurring beneath the surface, she worried that the ground could freeze, preventing crews from digging.

Pete’s developer Eugene Grzynkowicz told Walker-Peddakotla all of the work, above and below ground, to move utilities could be carried out during the inclement winter months.

“A little more binding as far as the process, but still doable,” Gryznkowicz said.

Dremonas made it clear that Pete’s plans to make the Madison Street project work.

“We will continue to push,” she said. “We have a lot of sunken costs already into this project.”

In a separate vote and smaller discussion, the village board approved a resolution approving the village’s reimbursement of up to $1.65 million to Pete’s for the cost of the site’s environmental remediation. Reimbursement of environmental remediation expenses is a common provision under the village’s RDA agreements, according to Grossman, who added that the village set aside $1.65 million in its Madison Street tax icrement financing (TIF) revenues for the purpose of reimbursing Pete’s for other eligible expenses.

Walker-Peddakotla was, again, the only village board member to vote against authorizing the agreement.

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