Four developers vie for Harlem and South project

Mixed-use development could range from nine to fourteen stories


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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The village of Oak Park is considering five proposals from four developers for the village-owned property at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.

All five proposals for the mixed-use development would include ground-floor retail space. The developers and development teams submitting proposals are: Urban R2; Lincoln Properties and LPC Contractors; Argent Group, Harlem Irving Group, Urban Innovations and Strategic Development Partners; and North American Properties and Urban Street.

The height of the buildings proposed ranges from nine to fourteen stories and the ground-floor retail space footprint ranges from 8,465 to 60,752 square feet.

The proposals call for 204 to 300 residential rental units, and all include a mix of market-rate and affordable units. The project is estimated to cost between $40.8 million and $69.3 million. 

All five proposals would be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Village administrators presented basic information about the proposals last week, emphasizing that they are still in the early stages of development and could change significantly over the next few months.

"I want to stress that what you're seeing here is the first iteration of what that developer has envisioned," said Loretta Daly, village business services manager.

The first-time look at the proposals revealed some surprises.

Developer Urban R2 is working with internationally acclaimed architect Helmut Jahn, known in Chicago for designing the James R. Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph St.

Another revelation came from Argent Group, which presented two scenarios that include a 47,523- to 60,752-square-foot, ground-level grocery store.

An unnamed source close to the Argent proposal said in a telephone interview that the company has reached out to national grocery chains, which have expressed interest in the site, but the source added that Argent would not build the space without securing a tenant.

The size of the retail space proposed by the remaining three developers is smaller, with North American Properties at 8,465 square feet, Lincoln Properties at 10,000 square feet and Urban R2 at 14,398 square feet.

Brad Friedman, executive vice president with Urban R2, said in a telephone interview that the development team envisions possibly two white tablecloth restaurants and service-oriented businesses such as FedEx or a doctor's office. 

The number of rental units offered in the proposals varied by almost 100. Urban R2 would build 204 units; North American Properties, 205; Lincoln Properties, 250; and Argent Group, 300.

Friedman described the design by Jahn as a modern structure of glass and steel with inset balconies that bring in natural sunlight. He said the development team reached out to a couple of architects for the project "and Helmut was very interested."

"We thought it would be really cool to bring that critically acclaimed architect into the project and see what he came up with," Friedman said.

Representatives of North American Properties and Lincoln Properties could not be reached for comment by press time.

The unnamed source close to the Urban R2 project said the team presented the village with two options because under one scenario, the project would incorporate adjacent buildings to the south. 

The source said everything in both proposals is negotiable, echoing Daly's observation that the project is still in the early stages of development.

Village Planner Craig Failor said at a public meeting on Friday that the village is using the Oak Park Master Plan, a guide for development in the community approved in 2005, as a roadmap for the project. He noted, however, that the plan was developed prior to the financial crash of 2008. 

The 20-year master plan aims to bring 1,200 new housing units to the downtown area by 2015. Failor said 330 units were built within the first five years of the plan, and the proposed development at Lake and Forest would bring another 270 units. 

The master plan calls for a four-story development at the Harlem and South site, but the shortest development proposed would more than double the stories.

"We feel that the pieces of the puzzle can be shifted around a bit, but as long as we're meeting the [housing unit] goals of the master plan, I think we're still achieving what the village approved back in 2005," Failor said.

Daly told those at the unveiling of the proposals that the village plans to hire a consultant to help vet the viability of the developers' proposals.


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Reader Comments

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Posted: January 31st, 2014 10:35 AM

I'm all for more new rental units near the trains, but how about trying to add some cool new office spaces to attract offices away from the city as well?

Bill D  

Posted: January 29th, 2014 5:22 PM

If I misspoke I apologize, John. I meant the Harlem/South Boulevard project failed due to the economic collapse.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: January 29th, 2014 3:43 PM

Speaking of empty retail space, are there any businesses vying for the empty space on Harrison and Lombard? Good thing it is tucked away where no one can see it - except perhaps one of the dozens of folks who speed through that intersection.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 29th, 2014 3:18 PM

Bill D ?" thanks for the heads-up. I had missed the 1-27 article. The article gives some insight into the project, but did not contain anything that would lead me to believe that we have "four credible developers." Receiving concepts from developers is a start, but guarantees nothing. The big village error in the last fifteen years has been choosing developers without much research, and defending the developer at all costs, rather than using due diligence to ensure that the residents' investment risk is secure. I disagree with your comment that the Lake and Forest debacle was the result of economic collapse. Actually, I am not sure which financial you were referencing ?" the national collapse, the Tif collapse, or the Sertus bankruptcy. My sense is that Lake and Forest failed because the village did a terrible job of selecting its developer ?" Sertus. There is no shortage of evidence that they did not have the planning or economics skills to assess the impact of the national economic collapse. Berwyn, Elmhurst and other nearby communities were able to complete, change, modify, delay, and scrap projects in the 2008-2010 period. OP failed. I am a big fan of Anan's aggressive development plans and will be an even bigger fan when there is enough information to assess "risk"!

Weisenheimer from Oak Park  

Posted: January 29th, 2014 2:53 PM

It would be a great location for a mattress store/shooting range.


Posted: January 29th, 2014 11:15 AM

No more building height variances, please. Must we build on every open space in the village?

OP Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: January 29th, 2014 10:10 AM

Here we go again. It's either gonna be another Whiteco with inadequate parking, cramped retail, and mediocre architecture OR another endlessly empty lot while the developer claims financing delays while playing the Village Board for more zoning variances and TIF money. What's that old saying again about repeating the same failed strategy but expecting different results?

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 28th, 2014 2:06 PM

How much OP retail space has to be empty before people stop wanting to create additional retail space?

Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2014 1:04 PM

That portion of Harlem is already a nightmare for travel. Good idea to cram in more stuff there to make that worse, along with the sure to be vacant store fronts.

JH from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2014 12:10 PM

Possibly nine to fourteen stories? One more ugly commentary on the supposed improvement of Oak Park.

Wishful from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2014 11:16 AM

that must be a file photo. Why not post a photo of the long gone Arby's?

Harlem Is One Ugly Entrance  

Posted: January 28th, 2014 10:29 AM

Does anyone ask why the drive from Harlem between the Ike and Lake Street looks like you're entering San Juan? Would be great if the municipalities along Harlem spent a little money to clean it up. Right now its really shabby and poor introduction for out of town visitors. But no heated side walks please.


Posted: January 28th, 2014 9:00 AM

Whiteco debacle eh? Successful occupancy and a Trader Joe's that pumps a lot of tax $$'s into Village coffers. If that's a "debacle" perhaps we should revisit the meaning of the word.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 27th, 2014 9:55 PM

We will have to wait to learn how much Oak Park taxpayers are going to be expected to kick in to make any of these proposals ever happen. Gone are the days when private developers were able to pull off a big project without some sort of public assistance. Trust that the Village President and board of trustees will be diligent in their considerations and keep the best interests of property owners and residents at heart.

Mark Ruehl from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2014 8:11 PM

This property is excellent for high density development, but a wise Village Board will ensure that a Whiteco-style debacle will be avoided. This means high quality construction, attractive, if not architecturally distinctive design, and plenty of parking. Don't blow it!


Posted: January 27th, 2014 6:18 PM

And what role - and at what time - did our $300,000 annual expense for OPDC have with these five proposals? This publicly owned property should be exhibit A for the benefits of OPDC. I'm still curious to see the financial analysis that Gallagher/Noll used in support of their new plan to increase annual tax dollar spending to $721,500 per year for the "new and improved" OPDC.

Alberg from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2014 4:52 PM

Just make sure there's enough parking.

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