A provided rendering of the Pete's Fresh Market proposal | FILE

Despite a lack of visible progress, crews are making headway beneath the surface on Oak Park’s second Pete’s Fresh Market location, 640-728 Madison St. The new grocery store, which has been in the works since 2018, is still in the process of relocating underground utilities – a process that began around December 2021.

A representative of Pete’s declined Wednesday Journal’s interview requests, directing the paper to follow the grocery store’s Instagram account, and relaying the message that Stephanie Dremonas, Pete’s executive officer, would “reach out if she has any interest in commenting.”

However, Pete’s has been in communication with the Village of Oak Park. The grocery store’s representatives met with village staff last Friday and relayed that it would take approximately one more month to finish relocating underground utilities, according to Oak Park spokesperson Dan Yopchick.

Yopchick told Wednesday Journal that Pete’s contractors are set to meet with AT&T and ComEd representatives this week to finalize past work completed and additional work yet to be completed on the last utility relocations required for the site. Pete’s intends to submit a permit application to install the project’s foundation later this month or in early September. Madison Street streetscape improvement projects, near the Pete’s site, are anticipated to begin this fall.

The grocery store has been slow coming. The new Pete’s was part of a wider redevelopment agreement brought forward in 2018, under the board leadership of Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, to rejuvenate the economic vitality of that section of Madison Street. Parts of that same proposal, such as the American House senior living complex across from the new Pete’s, have already been completed. American House opened in October 2022.

Residents of American House have a perfect view of the fenced off, torn up development site, which is visible from the building’s seventh-floor terrace and from the first-floor dining room. There’s not been much action to watch unfold over at Pete’s, according to William “Max” Dieber, who moved into the complex the day after it opened.

“Every once in a while, somebody will pull up, open the gate and go in and then I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s not like a crew. It’s like one or two people maybe,” Dieber said.

Most of the time the site just looks empty, according to Dieber, but the recent heavy rainfall prompted some attention from workers. He told Wednesday Journal he saw people over at the Pete’s site last week, pumping the land dry.

“Which is probably the most activity I’ve seen over there for a while,” Dieber said.

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

Despite these accommodations, Pete’s has faced a series of delays beyond those first presented by COVID-19, the original reason for postponing the removal and relocation of utilities. That work would have begun March 2020 had the pandemic not struck.

Crews broke ground Dec. 15, 2021, but faced issues coordinating with ComEd, Nicor and AT&T for the needed utility work. The delays have interrupted the flow of traffic while the chain-link construction fences encircling the Pete’s property has made the north side of Madison Street, west of Wesley Avenue, rather unattractive.

Pete’s went before the village board Jan. 17 to request an extension on the project. With the exception of Trustee Lucia Robinson, the board voted in favor of granting the extension, changing the store’s opening date to June 30, 2024, from Nov. 30, 2022, a date that had already come and gone anyway.

Should the current board enter into a similar development agreement in the future, Village President Vicki Scaman plans to use lessons learned from the Pete’s project to shape the contract to provide better investment protections.

“This board inherited a planned development contract with Pete,” said Scaman. “Any future planned development contract will have stronger mechanisms to protect taxpayers from lost revenue due to preventable construction delays.”

Pete’s is an “occasional topic of conversation at dinner” among American House residents, Dieber said, particularly the question of whether it will open next summer as promised.

“Many of us think there’s no way they’ll finish in time and others say, well, you know, once they get the foundation laid, it’ll probably just go up overnight,” said Dieber.

Scaman is in the latter camp. The village president is “cautiously optimistic” that once the project begins vertical construction, the process of building the Pete’s structure will be quick. She is, however, aware that the project is taking much longer in general than anticipated.

“I would have preferred to have seen, undoubtedly more progress and actual movement on the property before now,” Scaman said.

If Pete’s doesn’t make its new deadline, the grocery store chain will have to face financial consequences. A second extension request will result in Pete’s being slapped with a $2,000 fee. The fee will increase with every subsequent request. This was stipulated by the village board upon granting the original extension, for which Pete’s did not have to pay a fine.

Scaman’s cautious optimism is shared by Pete’s neighbors over at American House.

“We’re still hopeful it might be there by the end of June, but I don’t know,” said Dieber. “We have winter coming again, so it might make it hard for them.”

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