Photo by Nic McKelvey

The Oak Park village board has granted an extension to the developers of Pete’s Fresh Market, who have seen significant delays in the construction of the new grocery store at the corner of Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue. The store is now expected to open June 30, 2024.

This is considerably later than the first agreed upon date. The village’s second Pete’s location was supposed to open Nov. 30, 2022, under a redevelopment agreement the village entered into in 2018.

The delays have interrupted traffic and the large vacant parcel fenced off by chain link fences has made the north side of Madison Street west of Wesley Avenue something of an eyesore.

“The number of times people have asked me, ‘What’s that big white tent on Madison Street? What’s going on?’” Village President Vicki Scaman said.

The significant delays, however, are not the fault of Pete’s, according to Oak Park Development Customer Services Director Tammie Grossman. She came to the grocery store’s defense during the board’s Jan. 17 meeting, laying the blame at the feet of utility companies.

“This request made by Pete’s is not because of any wrongdoing on Pete’s part,” she said. “It’s really because they have had a horrible time dealing with the public utilities that were in the way of the construction of this building.”

The Pete’s site, occupying 640-728 Madison St., is not an easy one to develop, Grossman said, and required the removal and relocation of underground utilities, which involved coordinating with AT&T, Nicor and ComEd. The latter utility company had “several” electrical poles and conduits.

“This is probably the most challenging development site that we have in the community,” Grossman said.

Grossman’s explanation, backed up by Pete’s project manager Eugene Grzynkowicz, was enough to satisfy the concerns of almost every board member, including Trustee Chibuike Enyia, a former AT&T employee.

“I worked for AT&T for a number of years doing fiber,” he said. “There is so much work behind the construction of having to dig out lines.”

Trustee Lucia Robinson, however, was unconvinced, believing the village was being too lenient on Pete’s in light of the village’s substantial financial stake in the project.

As an incentive to invest in the community, the village donated a portion of the site to Pete’s and gave the grocery store $3 million to purchase and demolish the historic Foley-Rice building. The village also provided $1.65 million to Pete’s to cover the costs of environmental remediation.

“We are already past the point of the original completion date and so we’re actually losing money on this on a daily basis, because we’re not recouping any of those sales and developed property taxes,” said Robinson.

Robinson told Wednesday Journal that Pete’s is expected to bring the village $1 million yearly in sales and property taxes

She was the sole village board member to vote against amending the redevelopment agreement to grant Pete’s the extension.

ComEd finished removing their share of utilities between Thanksgiving and Christmas, right around store’s originally scheduled opening dating. The lengthy removal was caused by short staffing within the electric company, which also had to send crews out of state to restore storm-related power losses, according to Grossman.

The utility work is only the most recent in the series of delays for the beleaguered project. Grzynkowicz gave the board the rundown, sharing that the grocery store had first engaged with the utility companies in September 2019. The companies were supposed to begin removal and relocation efforts in March 2020, but COVID-19 hit.

“We have to give grace,” said Trustee Cory Wesley in regard to the pandemic’s impact to the project.

Pete’s representatives have agreed to give quarterly updates at board meetings, as many trustees expressed that they had not previously heard much of the information given that night.

Pete’s will not have to pay any fee to the village in exchange for having its completion date extended. However, if Pete’s makes a request for a second extension, the grocery store will be slapped with a $2,000 fee, which will go up with every subsequent request.

Progress on Pete’s has been made, however. Last month, crews began to relocate water and sewer mains. And once that work is completed, crews will begin excavation for the 114-spot underground parking garage. Vendors have also been “locked in,” according to Grzynkowicz.

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