Oak Park approves Lake Street Holiday Inn

Trustees grant property owners a special-use permit

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Downtown Oak Park is getting closer to having a hotel, as the village board, following recommendation by the Zoning Board of Appeals, granted a special-use permit, Nov. 18, authorizing the operation of a 98-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites hotel at 1140 Lake St. 

Salim Hemani, who co-owns the property with his brother Azim, spoke on behalf of the project to the zoning board on Nov. 6. 

 "Being in this local market for the last 30 years around the Chicagoland area and being in the businesses, we have found the need for a hotel in this area," he said.

Hemani brought the project's architect and a representative from Holiday Inn to the meeting. 

"We went to Holiday Inn for the franchise application and they're very eager and wanted to put this project up," said Hemani.

According to Hemani, the current five-story structure is 40 percent vacant. Plans for the quick service hotel include constructing three additional floors on top of the building, extending its current height of 52 feet to 80 feet. The first floor will remain a commercial space with a small hotel greeting desk.

The second floor, which connects by bridge to the village-owned Holley Court parking garage, will act as the primary hotel entrance, with check-in and meeting rooms available for guest use. There will also be eight guest rooms, four of which will have a king-size bed. The other four will be queen suites. Each queen suite consists of two queen-size beds.

Floors three through five have the same layout with eight kings, one king suite, five queen suites and one accessible queen suite for a total of 15 rooms per floor. 

Floors six through eight, the planned new floors, will also have 15 rooms on each floor, with two queen suites, one accessible queen suite and 12 king suites. The top three floors share the same layout. 

The Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites signage will hang outside the new floors, with assurances that it will not overwhelm the building. The façade of the original five floors will stay essentially the same but with refurbished limestone facing. The hotel will have central air instead of window units.  

Perhaps the biggest concern from community members regarded deliveries made to the hotel. Trucks would deposit deliveries on Prairie Way, an extremely narrow alley behind the building. 

"One of the ongoing issues that we have in the alley behind our building is we can't even get out of our building because there are delivery trucks there," said Dave Lehman, who lives in the neighboring condominium complex.  

"The issue is very simple. That's why we chose a limited service hotel," said architect Barkat Virani. "There is no food, there is no bar. That's when the deliveries generally go up one hell of a lot."

Virani said the hotel, once in operation, would likely only receive deliveries once a month. He also said, even though Holiday Inn Express and Suites locations do provide continental breakfasts to guests, the deliveries would primarily consist of guest toiletries.

"All due respect, I find it hard to believe that an 85-plus-room hotel will only require one delivery a month," said Marcia Lehman, Dave's wife. "The residents simply, more often than not, cannot get out of our building and that is just a function of the way the alley is built."

FFC gym owner Jeff Long worried that hotel guests would take over the village-owned Holley Court parking garage, leaving gym patrons with nowhere to park.

 According to Village Planner Craig Failor, Holley Court has a capacity to hold 1,200 cars and is currently operating at 75 percent.

Long also expressed disbelief about the hotel's delivery schedule. "There's also no way you're only going to have one delivery a month when you have breakfast every day," he said. "I have a small café in my club, and we get deliveries at least twice a week."

Other community members expressed concerns that the hotel would add to Lake Street traffic. 

 The zoning board voted to recommend, agreeing all public concerns related to traffic fell under the village's authority.

At the Nov. 18 village board meeting, traffic, delivery and parking concerns were brought up again. Azim Hemani told the board they're working with Sysco to ensure a food delivery time of either late at night or very early in the morning.

Carleton Hotel owner Mike Fox told the board he believes in the free market and is not against the proposed Holiday Inn but believes it unfair that the Carleton has to pay for guest parking, when the Holiday Inn would not have to. 

"Things are slow for us. Everybody loves to be at the magic number of 70 percent occupancy. We haven't been there for years," said Fox. He expects the Carleton's occupancy to hit 46 percent occupancy for 2019. 

The Carleton was required to purchase more parking when the hotel added extra rooms in 1999. The real estate taxes on the Carleton's parking lots have skyrocketed in the years since their purchase. "I looked it up today. I knew it was big; our lots average between $9,800 and $16,000 per lot a year," said Fox. 

"I wish we had more rational people like you, Mike, out there," said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. 

After additional questioning from the board to both Failor and Azim Hemani, the board voted to grant the special-use permit. Trustee Arti Peddakotla-Walker cast the sole dissenting vote. 

"Like Mike, I believe in the free market," said Abu-Taleb. "I believe small businesses take a lot of risk to invest in communities and neighborhoods. I believe businesses are the soul of a community, of a neighborhood, and I think we, as a board, and staff need to be as supportive as possible of these assets for our village. And I definitely would welcome you to our village, as long as you commit to being a good neighbor and you're going to hold onto that asset."

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Reader Comments

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Bruce Kelly  

Posted: November 23rd, 2019 9:22 AM

Looks like another chance for Oak Park to exhibit more of their magical traffic management.

Brian Souders  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 4:20 PM

For those that want to know why we are and will be seeing more chain businesses and not "chic boutique" ones? Because taxes in Oak Park are so high that we are pretty much at the point that only well-financed chains, rather than small busnesses, can afford to operate here. It's why there are so many empty downtown businesses. Gleefully passing every school referendum, lobbying for every feel-good village program (Hello, Housing Center, Divvy, Farmer's Market!, etc.), lobbying against any change in density, and voting in board members who never ever consider the impact of the tax burden ?" has a price. In this case, it's having a Holiday Inn Express instead of an Ace or Standard or Wit hotel.

Valerie Spiller  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 2:41 PM

I'm all about free market and think the quaint, local hotels are nice however, as someone else has mentioned, I've had several business associates stay at these locations as a convenience for me and they had issues... non-working wi-fi, had to leave the hotel to go to coffee shop to work, older rooms and more. We NEED this hotel.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 11:46 AM

A group of people at one time made certain restrictions in Oak Park, and it was for some reason. Maybe it was to keep Oak Park's appearance a certain way. I suppose whatever the reason, that was then, and now the board has to keep busy with approving special use permits. It may be easier just to eliminate all restrictions that were placed by people at one time in Oak Park, for whatever reason those people thought it was a good idea. This is the time to build for developers and investors like a return on their investment. There is nothing required for any developer to take any concern of being a good partner of Oak Park, and stay in Oak Park

Kline Maureen  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 10:01 AM

However, this is NOT a Village deal. It is a privately owned parcel. It's just that zoning code requires a special use permit for a hotel, so the Village had to approve that. It would apply regardless of the brand affiliation or the location.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 8:05 AM

I agree that Anan's comment is wrong and clearly reflects how the village has been run lately. I support more commercial revenue and personally like the idea of the hotel but we need to preserve the real soul which is the actual community. We risk losing that if the village continues to sign every deal it can.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 8:01 AM

@Jan, all I can tell you is that people didn't want to stay at the local places anymore after trying a few times. The rooms were dingy. It was very loud. Service was mediocre. The value for the money spent just wasn't there. It's definitely been a few years but that's the experience our guests had. They preferred to drive 20-30 min to stay at a name brand hotel where they knew what they could expect, I also think the traffic issue is a bit overblown here. This hotel has 98 rooms. Hotels are rarely full so let's assume 80 rooms are filled. Then let's assume half the people aren't driving as they are flying in. That's 40 cars per day assuming the rooms turnover every day which they won't. I personally think we can support a small chain hotel and that it will be good for the area plus more foot traffic for the businesses on Lake.

Jan Stephens  

Posted: November 20th, 2019 8:56 PM

James Cohen, I am surprised at your post. Both the Carleton and the Write Inn are good hotels. I have stayed at both and while the Write Inn presents as an older facility, it has a period theme. The restaurant is excellent and is a place I would frequent even if I wasn't a hotel guest. You aren't going to get a typical hotel in OP, with a pool, etc. I am frankly concerned about the traffic from a Ho!iday Inn. Lake Street is already too busy.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: November 20th, 2019 8:35 PM

Businesses are not the soul of the community. People are. This bizarre idea shows the distorted thinking of people who put money over every other consideration. It's pure Republicanism even if it pretends to be Democratic. The same people that wring their hands about the godless masses, feast on the Golden Calf. Nauseating.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: November 20th, 2019 6:19 PM

Anan's comment that " business is the soul of the community" hasn't sat well with me. Development is good. Even this hotel. But this perspective explains his leadership approach. Business first. Not the kids, the generations of families, the new families, the teachers, workers... the people.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 20th, 2019 4:24 PM

With Lake street becoming impossible to get emergency vehicles through in a timely manner, and the growing amount of people in a very specific area, and no room to make emergency lanes it may be time if it has not already been discussed, is how to get emergency response vehicles into the area which may mean buying some vehicles that can access a side walk until full size response vehicles can make it through the traffic. When you build a city, you have to consider what other cities do since planning ahead is a lot better that trying to explain why it was not planned

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 20th, 2019 8:53 AM

This is a great idea. I have had guests come into town and stay at the local hotels and have been mostly unhappy with their stay to be honest, if you want to stay at a standard type hotel you are forced to stay a bit away from OP which isn't ideal. This solves that problem. I don't think parking will be a major concern either as most people likely to book a hotel aren't going to be driving. I also like that those staying at the hotel will need to venture out to get food and drink. That helps support all the local businesses.

Bob Larson  

Posted: November 19th, 2019 10:26 PM

I 'm for economic development, but the Mayor stating that business is the soul of a community is going way too far. I'd say the residents are the soul of a community !

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2019 7:51 PM

This is a great move for the town and DTOP. Hotel guests can eat in the many adjoining restaurants. The taxes on the Carleton's required parking spaces sound insanely high, so something should be done to reduce that for them as a followup.

Mary Kay O'Grady  

Posted: November 19th, 2019 6:39 PM

No food? No bar? Not good.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: November 19th, 2019 5:40 PM

With once a month deliveries, those breakfasts are going to be pretty stale.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 19th, 2019 3:34 PM

William Dwyer Jr. Thank you for your observation. Now maybe the Village will not require Mike Fox to spend money on parking and will be able to build some thing on it that will help bring in more income with the added competition

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: November 19th, 2019 3:14 PM

Kudos to the village board for moving forward with this hotel project. The IHG hotel group is a quality operation. As for fears that hotel occupants will "take over" any parking lot, that just doesn't square with reality. Over the last several years, I've regularly stayed in hotels all over the world, and my observation is that the vast majority of hotel patrons rely on taxis, Uber and rapid transit, particularly in city centers.

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