Oak Hotel building to become apartments

Building condemned after small fire discovered by inspectors

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The bright orange notices on the front door of the vacant Oak Hotel building, 855 Lake St., note that the structure is condemned by the Oak Park Fire Department and "unfit for human occupancy."

The notices are dated April 10 and appeared two days after fire inspectors discovered that a small fire had taken place in the structure, damaging two of the units.

The building has been vacant for months, according to Tammie Grossman, director of Oak Park's Development Customer Services Department.

She said the building, which was sold in May 2018 for $3.97 million to Chicago-based Icon Clark LLC, has gradually been vacated since it was purchased.

The building currently has 63 units, but that number is expected to decline in the forthcoming rehab, which will keep them as rental apartments, Grossman said.

"The previous owner hadn't spent any money on the building in a long time," she said.

The building, which originally served as a hotel, was never designated low-income housing, but it offered affordable efficiency apartments on Lake Street.  

Grossman did not disclose any details of the project, but said the developer, Ayman Khalil, is not seeking any zoning variances for the rehab.

Khalil did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Deputy Fire Chief Peter Pilafas said in a telephone interview that the building was condemned after fire inspectors discovered on April 8 that a fire had taken place in the vacant building.

It is uncertain when the fire took place, he said. Fire inspectors were out that day on a different inspection when they noticed doors and windows open at the building.

They wanted to make sure the vacant building was secure when they smelled the odor of smoke coming from inside the structure. An investigation revealed that a fire had taken place in a hallway on the third floor.

That fire appeared to have begun in the hallway and spread to two of the units, Pilafas said, adding that inspectors believe the fire self-extinguished at some point. The building was condemned to make sure it is not being occupied by anyone, he added.

"We want to make sure it's secured so nothing happens with the building when it's unoccupied," Pilafas said.

tim@oakpark.com

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Peter Landau  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 4:43 PM

Christine Vernon - I'm not talking about an SRO, I'm talking about a nice hotel. Both my wife's and my families all live far from Chicago so we have had many situations over the years where they have visited and needed a hotel. You would not believe how often the Carleton is sold out, although I'm sure there are off-peak times where it isn't. The Write Inn - well, I don't want to say anything too negative here, so I will leave it at that. So many times family members have stayed in downtown Chicago or the Holiday Inn Express in Hillside or at other places in Oak Brook. I was so excited about the possibility of a Courtyard or Hampton Inn or whatever might have gone into the new building at Lake and Forest. The point is, there really aren't good hotel options in Oak Park, which is crazy when you think about it. The Carleton is certainly nice, but like I said, it is often full and also not a high end place. Maybe I'm just venting about yet another apartment building and no nice new hotel for visitors. We do get many tourists, you know, and this particular property is in the right location.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 4:13 PM

Peter Landau - historically, that building might have been affordable but it has had disturbing and disreputable events there for many years. One of the most disturbing was the death of a 22 year old girl from Wisconsin there from a heroin overdose in 2011 (Wednesday Journal "Wisconsin girl dies of apparent heroin overdose in Oak Park apartment building" November 11, 2011). the 106 comments after this article are almost as disturbing as the facts about the young girl's death. There are anonymous testimonials from residents who lived there after the death of this young woman that it was a quiet clean place but there was always a shady element that lived there. At least since the 1970s. I witnessed that. So, we have this fire in one building in Oak Park (Oak Hotel) and we have floor to ceiling ice in the building of another empty building in Oak Park, (Foley Rice). How do these things happen. It takes quite a while for floor to ceiling ice accumulate. Who is responsible for this negligence? Hotels and their transient populations could be a bigger liability than what has already happened at the Oak Hotel. You can't know that would be better. If hotels were such a great investment, the Ron Fox and his son, Mike, R.P.Fox and Associates who have done a good history managing The Carlton would not have had to close their hotel in Oak Brook. They bought the Drake Hotel in 2005 and impacted by the recession, it closed again in 2009. Hotels are not fail-safe. I wonder if a big building like this almost needs a building representative living on each floor, like a college dorm, to insure that everyone is in compliance with noise and other ordinances in the building, keeping them safe from things like the fire described! The idea that renovating a building like this is not possible is simply not true. Don't forget, the Village loves to give subsidies to developers, the most notable being the $20 Million given to WhiteCo for the building on Harlem above Trader Joe's.

Joel A. Schoenmeyer  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 1:06 PM

I'm still confused by how the fire started, and how the fire does or does not relate to the status of the conversion. And, while I don't typically like the reflexive "what are these people doing with their property? why don't they build an Apple store there?" approach favored by some Oak Parkers, I am concerned that the current owners appear to be delinquent on their 1st installment 2018 property taxes ($80,903.81, due 3/1/19).

Janet Haisman  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 12:10 PM

I have always thought that it must have been a beautiful building back in the day. As neighbors, we are hoping for a remodeling job that would undoubtedly be very expensive. But we hold out hope - crossing our fingers!

Peter Landau  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 8:34 AM

This building was already affordable housing and it deteriorated badly. A rehab and subsequent huge property tax bill will not allow for these to be affordable, so don't fool yourself into thinking that's what they will be. We don't need more apartments. All those new buildings are all apartments (albeit expensive ones). Would be better if it were rehabbed back into a hotel. This village desperately needs one. The Carleton is often full and the Write Inn is small. One of the new high rises was originally supposed to include a hotel but then it was changed to all apartments. It is in a good downtown location and it would be better to have more visitors bringing and spending their money in the village. Too bad we won't get that.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 6:10 PM

Odd headline. The story is bout the condemnation not about the conversion, which is barely mentioned.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 2:46 PM

This will be a great place for affordable apartments for seniors and students, especially if the building retains some spaces for common areas, because, after all, those are small studios. They do have the advantage of a very small area to serve as a kitchenette. And they have an elevator, of course. The few units with a bedroom are in the front of the building. Then there is the penthouse(!?) on the top floor. As a one time employee of former owners, I can testify that the building is a model of deferred maintenance! If the current owner is as disreputable as indicated in the posts below, maybe the Village can steer the project, and partner as they seem to like to do, to reputable developers skilled at repurposing good existing architecture, a good building, in a 'green' way. Can't help but think that the discovery of a fire having happened there in the abandoned building is another indictment of the negligent inspections and code enforcement in Oak Park. Please someone provide evidence to the contrary. I do not want to malign anyone who may actually be doing this properly but what makes the news seems to reinforce the impression of negligence. Not all that long ago, I remember a campaign when the Village was enforcing having a visible address in front of each house, either on the curb or house to make it easier for police and fire-fighters get to where they are called to assist. Good idea...but we need more than that kind of conformity as far as codes go enforcement expectations go!!

Kline Maureen  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 2:26 PM

good find, Jim Kelly - - though in all fairness, a lot has changed since 2012 when the effects of the "great recession" were just starting to wear off.

Jim Kelly  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 2:00 PM

Here's a link to a 2012 Craine's article, headlined "Investor Faces Foreclosure on 2 Apartment Buildings." The investor is none other than Ayman Khalil, listed as "a principal in Chicago-based Inverbrass Funds LLC."

Jim Kelly  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 1:54 PM

An almost $4 million purchase and almost a year has gone by with no activity? This sounds very suspicious. I did a quick web search and could not find any information about ICON Clark LLC, and considering that the WJ has apparently been trying unsuccessully to contact Ayman Khalil since the building was sold, I think an investigation is in order.

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