The Wheaton Park District Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to make an offer on the old school property. The board also approved a letter of intent with Bradford Real Estate that would allow for a Mariano’s Fresh Market grocery store to open on the corner of Roosevelt and Naperville roads, while preserving the remainder of the site, including the site’s gyms and playing fields.
The agreement could be implemented immediately upon District 200's accepting the offer, according to a press release from the park district, and would build on the park district's multi-use vision for the property. The plan includes: keeping the three gyms and green space for recreational use; sensible development to add to the tax rolls; and the creation of a gateway leading visitors into the historic downtown.
Mike Benard, executive director of the Wheaton Park District said that in an ideal situation, the store could open in late 2012 or early 2013.
, where no one presented official bids for the property. The District 200 school board passed a resolution in February to sell Hubble in a sealed bid process for a minimum of $10 million. When it received no bids by the bid opening date, Apr. 14, the board passed a new resolution setting the minimum price to $5 million, and a public auction date on Monday, May 16.
District 200 Attorney Aris Dalianis explained Monday that school code allows the board to entertain reasonable offers for a minimum of $5 million, but not necessarily compliant with the original terms and conditions of the sale. However, District 200 can negotiate a lower price with the park district because it is a government entity. The park district will make an offer for $2 million, according to a source familiar with the offer.
Park Board President Ray Morrill said Monday that the park district will not spend more than $6 million on the entire project. "It's not worth $5 million," he said. "We're not paying $5 million ... We'll wait until they either come down or they sell it to somebody else."
Morrill wrote in a press release Monday, “Listening to the expressed desires of the School Board and City officials and taking community feedback to heart, we responded today with a detailed, workable solution that balances quality of life issues for our community with sensible, smart growth ... Most importantly, we can put this plan into action right now—with no more delays—and finally turn this property into a gem for the entire community to use."
District 200 Board President Rosemary Swanson said Monday that "obviously we'll consider anything that comes our way." However, she added that the district owes it to taxpayers to get the correct value in terms of sale price and how its developed. According to a press release from District 200 Tuesday, the board "still maintains their commitment to the community to sell the property for re-development."
Commissioner Kim VanderSchaaf said that since she hadn't been privy to all of the details regarding Hubble, she was at a disadvantage and motioned to postpone the vote. The present commissioners and President Morrill all voted 'yes;' Commissioners Phil Luetkehans and Terry Mee were not present.
Under the terms of the letter of intent between the park district and Bradford, the park district will sell the portion of the property at the corner of Roosevelt and Naperville roads to Bradford after purchasing the entire property from District 200. Bradford will then partner with Roundy’s Supermarkets, Mariano’s parent company, to construct the store.
District 200 Spokeswoman Erica Foreman said Tuesday that the district has not received anything formal, and therefore declined to comment on the park district's intentions to sell a portion of the land to Bradford.
Meanwhile, the park district would make improvements to the gyms and athletic fields and continue to operate and maintain them. Renderings of the vision for the redeveloped site can be seen on the Wheaton Park District website.
Dividing the Hubble property to accommodate a multi-use option would allow the Park District to preserve the 94,000 hours of community programs and recreational activities that take place on the property each year; enable District 200 to make money immediately by finally selling the property; and help the City and School District generate new sales and property tax revenue, according to a press release Monday from the Wheaton Park District. Mariano’s Fresh Market will create about 300 full and part-time jobs.
Bradford has been in business for more than 25 years and has developed more than 60 retail properties totaling more than 9 million square feet, including two suburban Mariano’s grocery stores slated to open this summer and next year.
“We explored countless options to determine the smartest and best usage for this unique property,” said Chad Jones, a Wheaton resident and the Chief Financial Officer for Bradford. “By putting a high-quality destination grocery store on the furthest corner of the parcel, the plan for the site will not only generate new tax revenue, but it will also minimize traffic, preserve neighborhood aesthetics, and allow the community to continue to enjoy the existing green space and gyms.”
Mariano’s is a grocer known for exceptional perishables and service at a great value, the park district wrote Monday. Its first store opened in Arlington Heights last year with a location planned for Vernon Hills this summer and another in Palatine early next year, as well as two stores in Chicago planned for Roscoe Village and Lakeshore East. Mariano’s stores deliver the freshest and highest-quality products from both local sources and around the world. The neighborhood shopping environment will offer an Italian coffee shop, a wood-fire pizza oven, a sit-down sushi bar, and a full-service pharmacy.
Bob Mariano, founder and owner of the specialty grocery store, said he’s “thrilled” about the prospect of opening a new store in Wheaton. The neighborhood has been without a grocery store since the Jewel Food Store closed several years ago.
Ever since District vacated the middle school in June 2009, the Park District has continued use of the playing fields and three gymnasiums, which have served as home to many of its programs, leagues, practices and events for the past three decades. The Park District’s continued use of the vacated property has been beneficial to the School District, the Park District and the residents of both public bodies. Maintaining such use is in the public interest.
Once located on the site, Mariano’s would contribute to the area’s tax base for the first time at the former school site while maintaining the customer base of existing downtown businesses. Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk has been a strong supporter of bringing a grocer back to the downtown area since Jewel closed several years ago.
The plan would also call for the creation of a green gateway from Roosevelt Road at Main Street aimed at drawing consumers and visitors into the city’s historic downtown shopping and dining district, adding to the local economy.
“The Park District has listened to our needs and concerns and has presented a solid plan that preserves green space and establishes a gateway,” said Doug Elftmann, who lives near Hubble. “It will maintain the character of the neighborhood without excessive traffic, fast food restaurants, strip malls or the big box commercial development that we strongly oppose.”
Preliminary estimates project that School District 200 would receive $200,000 annually in new property tax revenue once Mariano’s is up and running, bringing the School District’s annual net benefit to $500,000.
Morrill added: “This plan creates a win for the Community Unit School District 200, a win for the City of Wheaton, a win for the Wheaton Park District, but most importantly, it creates a win for the residents we all serve.”