Pete's gets OK to raze auto showroom

Change to development agreement allows for historic building's demolition

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Much to the dismay of local architecture and history aficionados, a new amendment to the redevelopment agreement between Pete's Fresh Market and the village of Oak Park allows the grocery store chain to demolish a nearly century old auto dealership  at 644 Madison St. The village board passed the amendment during its Nov. 23 meeting.

The amendment allows Pete's to make adjustments to the project schedule due to COVID-19, as well as includes changes to the concept plan that does not involve retention of what was last used years back as a Foley-Rice Cadillac showroom.

"We were hopeful that we'd be able to do everything to preserve the building," said Pete's executive officer Stephanie Dremonas. 

Pete's purchased the historic building to build its second Oak Park location, which will encompass the 600 and 700 blocks of Madison Street, between Oak Park and Wesley Avenues. 

Known as the Hill Motor Sales Building, it was built in 1925 and served as an automobile showroom for a Packard dealership. Its final use was as part of the Foley-Rice dealership which had locations on both sides of Madison Street. The building on the south side of Madison will be demolished to make way for senior housing.

The grocery store's effort to retain the building's façade were ultimately not possible, said Dremonas, due to the placement of the planned store's loading dock on the easternmost edge of the property and the difficulties of configuring the plans to fit into two city blocks. 

"That wall – it has to come down," said Dremonas.

Retaining the façade would also present considerable financial costs for the grocery store chain – roughly $2.5 million, according to Pete's developer Eugene Grzynkowicz, who stated the building would have to be completely disassembled and then put back together. 

Pete's plans to preserve perhaps the building's most recognizable feature – its grotesques, which will be incorporated into the new grocery store's design.

The community has made multiple attempts to save the building from demolition.  Last year, the village rejected a proposal to declare the Foley-Rice building a landmark. Landmark Illinois, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving historic places, placed the structure on its list of Illinois's most endangered places in 2019. 

Most recently, the "Save the Hill Coalition" community group submitted the maximum allowed three public comments to the village board Nov. 24 advocating for the building's preservation. The coalition developed alternative architecture plans that would incorporate a portion of the Foley-Rice and provide construction cost savings, according to the group. 

Notable members of the coalition include Frank Lipo of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation's Heidi Reuhle and local architect Frank Heitzman.

"We met with Heidi and Frank and Frank and I commend their persistence and their passion," said Dremonas during the Nov. 23 meeting. "If I had it my way and I had an open checkbook, to make this happen, we could do it."

In a 5-to-2 vote, the village board accepted the second amendment, which also allows Pete's to adjust certain dates to the project schedule. Trustees Simone Boutet and Arti Walker-Peddakotla cast the dissenting votes.

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Reader Comments

11 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: December 8th, 2020 9:42 AM

Any building/land purchased for use by a government entity goes off the tax rolls.

Waldhorn Fafner  

Posted: December 7th, 2020 11:31 PM

Did the village ever get back the TIF money from Foley Rice? They got the money to remodel and then operate the building as a car dealership for 10 years. They were there for what - 2 more years. As far as Pete's besides getting all this $$ from Oak Park why do we need another Pete's so close to the one we already have? Will they shut down the already open one once the new one is open? If the new Pete's causes the Jewel on Madison to close - well that fits into the plan to put the Police Department at that location but does that remove the property from the tax rolls? I need to be on the planning commission I could have all kinds of plans for spending millions of dollars.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 8:19 PM

Joyce Siragusa Don't forget that the VOP has also agreed to pay up to around $625,000 more funds for toxic waste remediation on the 700-728 Madison site. As a point of reference, the toxic waste remediation costs at the Emerson site were around $6 million.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 4:56 PM

The Oak Park village government will bend over for ANY corporation. And they make us pay for their one night stands.

Joyce Siragusa  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 3:48 PM

Cha ching. Will not be shopping at Pete's since we have already subsidized (gifted) them enough. - Between 2001 and 2005, the village purchased the properties at 710-728 Madison St. for $2,206,500, and, in 2017, purchased the former Car-X property at 700 Madison St. for $1.2 million. The Jupiter Realty Company/Pete's Fresh Market proposal requests the village gift the 700-728 Madison St. properties as well as a financial incentive of $3 million to fund land acquisition costs for the private property at 644 Madison St., plus any remaining costs related to environmental remediation.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 8:02 AM

While I understand that we're always free to express our opinion (and decide where to spend our $$), I'll never really understand those who sit on the sidelines and throw verbal bombs but take little action. The structure in question has been vacant/underutilized since I moved to Oak Park +20 years ago. To claim that this is simply due to an unwillingness of the local officials to "see another way," is naive at best. How does it serve the community by being vacant? What about the resources that are expended to keep it safe to community members? What about the opportunity cost-- in terms of time and funds-- are incurred as a result of the inactivity? I've seen this again and again as a resident of OP as we try to do things and get hung up due to "ideological purity". Thank goodness some action is being taken so that we no longer fall for that mistake of holding out for the "best as the enemy of the good." Or as another wise person said, "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."

Christopher Goode  

Posted: December 3rd, 2020 12:01 PM

The VOP could have made the Hill building viable for far less than they gave away to have it removed. Perhaps not to make an overlarge and unnecessary grocery store that will be an ugly scar at that location for a long time, but that building could have been adapted and made viable. The village chose not to push for that. This does nothing for the village other than shifting some future tax revenue to that location from some other existing store locations that will probably soon close (Oak Parkers can only buy so many groceries), and so we will be right back where we started from trying to figure out how to make new use of those unattractive buildings. Not a great use of our TIF money. I hope the village planners are happy as it will keep them busy working. Meanwhile I will doing my grocery shopping and spending my sales taxes elsewhere.

Marty Bracco from Oak Park  

Posted: December 3rd, 2020 10:44 AM

It's sad in a way but the reality is that this building isn't now nor has been for decades economically feasible. This conversation has been going on for almost my entire adult life (I'm 62 and a lifelong OP resident) The VOP should have been more flexible a long time ago, but the retail world has changed permanently. Lots of people made great efforts here over the years, but it's time. Let's move on.

Jason Malley  

Posted: December 3rd, 2020 8:37 AM

@Don, the gym was on the south side of Madison. The building at 644 is on the north side of Madison and indeed has been empty since it was vacated by Foley.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 6:58 PM

I, for one, won't be shopping at Pete's if and when that building is demolished. It is sad that this town, so rich in it's awareness of architecture, thinks that the demolition of this nearly century old attractive structure is worth it to gain a mundane grocery store that presents a blank wall to the street it occupies, and a large open parking lot at the important corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street. This is piss poor urban planning, and our village government and it's elected board should know better.

Dan London  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 6:41 PM

Sorry, you are wrong, this building was not last used as Foley Rice Dealership, it was last used as a gym....EF Gym

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