Not much has changed recently regarding the construction of Oak Park’s second Pete’s Fresh Market location—other than the Madison Street grocery store’s promised opening date.
Pete’s was supposed to open next June under an extension the village board approved back in January. That already pushed-pack date of June 30 will likely be even further pushed back due to difficulties with utility companies, according to Eugene Grzynkowicz, Pete’s general contractor and project manager. The expected open date is now expected to be two and a half months after June 30.
“We are still at the mercy of ComEd,” Grzynkowicz told the village board at its meeting Monday night.
Problems with utility companies, notably ComEd, has become the routine refrain used by Pete’s camp to excuse the project’s massive delays. The village board has grown far less favorable to it.
Trustee Brian Straw criticized Grzynkowicz Monday night for not immediately breaking it to the board that the project’s promised deadline was not going to be met, while Village President Vicki Scaman reminded Grzynkowicz of the point of his presence at the village board meeting. Pete’s was required to give the village quarterly progress reports for the much-delayed project.
“The purpose of these updates is for us to know how on track we are,” Scaman said.
Pete’s was required to give the village quarterly progress reports for the much-delayed project under a stipulation of its most recent extension request, which was approved last January, allowing Pete’s to move the completion date from Nov. 30, 2022, to June 30 of next year.
A representative from ComEd confirmed to Wednesday Journal the electric company is and has been working with Pete’s to remove underground utilities but did not admit responsibility for the delays attributed to ComEd by Pete’s.
“ComEd routinely works with companies and municipalities to meet their power needs and has been actively engaged with Pete’s Fresh Market to open its new location,” said ComEd spokesperson John Schoen in a Sept. 21 email.
“Our crews have already successfully completed the necessary rerouting of underground cables and conduits, and we are currently coordinating the final utility pole relocations with the remaining construction work that is being completed by the customer.”
Pete’s is “most likely” going to have to ask the village for another extension, according to Grzynkowicz, who once again placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the utility companies.
“This is not something induced by Pete’s,” Gryzynkowicz said. “This is hardship from the utility companies.”
If Pete’s comes forward with another extension request and if the village board grants it, the changed date will become the sixth amendment made to the planned development agreement between the Village of Oak Park and Pete’s.
And the loss of tax revenue on the much-delayed project, as well as the cost implications of further delays, has started to wear on trustees, particularly Trustee Lucia Robinson. The store was expected to generate an estimated $587,000 in real estate taxes and $546,000 in sales taxes annually at the time Pete’s broke ground on Dec. 15, 2021.
“We are not the project manager on this,” Robinson said. “We are supposed to be the recipient of those revenue estimates. Right now, Pete’s has not made good on that.”
The current board inherited the planned development agreement, which the village entered into in 2018. Under the agreement, 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. The village gave another $1.6 million to Pete’s to cover environmental remediation costs.
The delays, which Robinson said were not the problem of the village, have eaten into the promised return on investment.
Last January, Robinson was the sole board member who voted against Pete’s request to extend their completion date to this June. The extension was the fifth amendment made to the planned development agreement and came with the caveat Pete’s would be on the hook to pay a sliding scale fine based on the number of subsequent extension requests made. The expected extension request will cost Pete’s $2,000—a price penalty not large enough for Robinson.
“We are losing money and, as the fiduciaries of this community, we have to figure out how to mitigate that,” she said.
Further complicating Pete’s progress is the project’s lack of an architect. Pete’s had retained the services of Ken Nadolski with WT Group, and its grocery store division API Architects. Nadolski has left the firm, which is no longer comfortable finishing the project without him, Gryzynkowicz told the board.
While Nadolski is seeing if his new firm, NWS Architects, is interested in taking up the project, according to Grzynkowicz, Pete’s will likely return to working with Aria Group Architects, the firm it first engaged for the project. Former Zoning Board of Appeals member Jim Lencioni founded Aria Group.