River Forest taps firm to chart course for Lake-Park

Back to the drawing board for star-crossed commercial site

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By Deborah Kadin

Finding a suitable firm to create a successful development at Lake and Park has been a long-standing goal that has not yet come to fruition for River Forest.

Now, the village is taking a different approach to get the project off the ground, bringing on a new consultant to do a lot of the heavy lifting and get input from residents and developers even before firms are solicited.

While preliminary, the approach, which was discussed at the April 12 meeting of the village's Economic Development Commission, could allow a wide range of ideas and result in a project that will be accepted by the public.

"We want an increased property tax base, and there are different ways to get there," commission chairman Tom Hazinski said. "There could be a different variety of projects that we'd be happy with and a variety of different developments on that site that would satisfy that goal that we'd be happy with."

A new firm, Chicago-based Ehlers and Associates, a financial and economic development advisory company, will lead the effort. The village will seek public comment, though it's uncertain if the village will send out a survey or hold a forum to solicit input. It's also undetermined what kind of information will be sought.

The information will be used to help develop a request for proposals/qualifications document that can be shared with prospective developers.

A series of roundtables could be held to engage with the development community and get the broadest perspective on what kind of project would work best. Jennifer Tammen, a municipal advisor with Ehlers, suggested that bringing in developers as well as architects, environmental consultants and others who might work with developers might bring some interesting perspectives to the table. Ehlers also would find suitable developers and market the site.

A working group of Economic Development Commission members, village trustees and staff will determine how to engage with the community and details that will be used for the development round tables. Who will be a part of that group has not been decided; residents will not be included.

It could be January 2018 before all of the details fall into place and village trustees approve a redevelopment agreement with a developer.

This is the fourth go-round on finding a developer for the site. A bad economy didn't help the village's effort in 2010 and 2011. In December 2014, three proposals came forward.

A multi-use apartment complex recommended by the Economic Development Commission was met with vehement community opposition. The concept village trustees eventually chose nearly a year later was a mixed-use project proposed by Keystone Ventures, owned by local developer Tim Hague.

After waiting for months to get a redevelopment agreement from Hague, the village earlier this year pulled the plug on Keystone and went back to the drawing board.

This story has been changed to correct the city where Ehlers and Associates is headquartered. 

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