Setting the record straight on the Colt building

Opinion

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Greg Marsey, One View

I know election season politics are rough and tumble. Election debate is healthy, given the challenges we face as a village. But, having read the recent letter to the editor from the VMA candidates running for village trustee [DTOP preservation debate should focus on the big picture, Viewpoints, Feb. 7] regarding the $5 million purchase of the Colt building, I think it's important to set the record straight.

On Aug. 6, 2001, the village board (then all VMA) voted to sell the Colt building to a developer, but signed an agreement allowing the new owner to force the village to buy back the property if mutual agreement on a development project could not be reached. The contract said that unless the village agreed to award a development project for downtown Oak Park to the Colt building's owner by Aug. 15, 2004, the village would have to re-acquire the Colt building for nearly $5 million. So, to be clear, the purchase price of the Colt building was negotiated and approved by a VMA-controlled board.

Like other development projects driven by VMA boards, it was a non-competitive deal with a single developer. You can read this agreement yourself. It's available for download on the village website. Go to http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/planning/, then click on the link that says 10.11.05 Colt put-call agreement_with attachments.pdf.

By the summer of 2004, the village had reached no conclusion on a downtown project, and so the village board (now with 6 of 7 trustees slated by the VMA) agreed to extend the contract deadline in order to try to reach an agreement.

When my board took the reins in 2005, we were stuck with the contract signed and extended by VMA-led boards, and were left with no choice but to try to negotiate an acceptable deal with the developer. While I cannot divulge the details of those negotiations, what I can say is that the overall cost of the project to the village as proposed by the developer would have been more than twice the cost of buying the Colt building. Put more bluntly, the cheapest way out was to purchase the building.

Those are the facts. Now for my opinion.

The village is not a real estate developer and shouldn't be entering into such complex and constricting real estate transactions. When we do get involved in a project, the taxpayers are best served when projects are competitively bid and where the use of subsidies provided by the village, if any, are small and focused on public infrastructure. The village has neither the funding nor the expertise to be deeply involved in real estate development and when we've tried, we've spent too much money for too little result.

The New Leadership '07 slate shares the kind of common sense approach to balancing vital economic development with historic preservation that I've been fighting for since I joined the board. I think we have the right approach. I look forward to the debate and our exciting future together in Oak Park.

Greg Marsey is an Oak Park village trustee.

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