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Plans Are A Changing: The Main Street Triangle Interview Part III

In the third of our four-part interview series with Orland Park village officials about the Triangle development, we discuss how the original vision changed over time to today.

A plan was in place, as was a developer.

Yet in June 2011, the only buildings standing within the triangle of land between the Metra Southwest Service train tracks, 143rd Street and LaGrange Road are mostly within the Orland Plaza – a shopping center that existed long before the idea for a downtown within that area came to be.

Between the initial idea for a downtown center within the triangle and summer 2011, one of the greatest economic downturns the United States has seen led to changes in plans.

The idea for a walkable, mixed use, modern housing, transit-centered development remains. What exactly that will look like when finished remains to be seen, though the village says they are still talking with a developer.

What is certain? Pieces of land were acquired and , and an eminent domain case is still in litigation, despite a judge’s . Though there are signs an end could be near.

In part three of our discussion about the Main Street Triangle project, Mayor Dan McLaughlin, Village Manager Paul Grimes and Assistant Village Manager Ellen Baer talk about the current vision for the development, and how traffic factors in.

Patch: How has the plan changed over time?

Village Manager Paul Grimes: This is an old plan approved by the board from Related Midwest. We mutually parted ways with them about three or four years ago.

Assistant Village Manager Ellen Baer: The market changed considerably since this was designed.

Paul Grimes: So some things in this plan won’t exist but the theme will be the same. A transit-orientated development. A downtown feel with streets, very pedestrian friendly.

We know the demographics here. Orland Park is an aging baby boomer type of community. That’s good. We want them to stay. We want them to have places to go and things to do. A lot are empty nesters. We want them to stay and have an interesting gathering place.

But you also want to attract young people. You want to have a place for them to come. Those are the future homeowners, and those are the people raising their kids in our school system.

If you don’t have a vision with high quality, you just become another suburb. Then people go on to the next suburb. But if you anchor it with something that’s unique and attractive…like what Naperville has done. Naperville has a great downtown area. They invested lots of money. They did TIFs. That’s what we’re trying to achieve here. We have to think of the future in terms of how to make a sustainable community and keep it attractive to maintain the balance of the empty nesters, the young people and the seniors. That’s what makes a community.

The vision is that you’d have commercial retail along LaGrange that gets the visibility. Some restaurants, with a boardwalk all around. The pond. A number of things. You have the Crescent Park, which is a terrific venue for public green. Mixed use in the middle. Retail or restaurants on the ground floor. Housing units on top.

Ellen Baer: And connectivity to the south on the bottom. That’s already built. That has a connection across the tracks to Old Orland or across on 143rd to the civic corridor.

Mayor Dan McLaughlin: What we’re looking at now (motions toward older map of Triangle plan) is not what it will be. It’s changed over the years for different reasons. When Related Midwest started working on this, they originally envisioned underground parking under Crescent Park. That would’ve saved surface parking from taking up space. But the soil didn’t allow for it.

This plan has probably taken half a dozen different forms. At campaign times they’ll say, “it’s changing” and ask why. And no one takes the time to understand the background and how complicated it is, and they jump to conclusions to make something negative. The fine-tuning has made it a better project.

Paul Grimes: The vision is the same. Transit development. Mixed use. Higher density. A combination of residential, retail, entertainment, restaurants. Probably there will be some sort of a grocer food purveyor type of place. Obviously we’re looking at developing this area first (just to the west of the plaza). That’s vacant right now.

We’re in negotiations with a developer out of Indiana. That’s still in play. We don’t have anything officially to report. But we do think we are making progress and we’ll have something soon. When it’s rolled out, I think people will see it’s high quality.

Mayor McLaughlin: It’ll be something everybody will be proud of. You’ll see on Friday and Saturday nights, people walking all over the place. People living there will be able to someday walk potentially to a grocery store or to outdoor cafes.

Paul Grimes: The road project out there now is all a part of this.  Yes, it has to be built to state specifications, but we’re investing quite a bit of money to upgrade the improvements in making them downtown-orientated gateway features. Pedestrian features.

We undergrounded all the utilities. You may have driven by and noticed all those power lines are gone.

Mayor McLaughlin: It really opened it up.

Paul Grimes: 142nd Street will be full access with a light. And this will be a major pedestrian corridor linking Orland Crossing with the downtown area. There will be another major pedestrian crossing, and a bike path will be installed this year, which will link to the bike trail system that goes all the way to the thousands of acres east of Orland and to Oak Forest and Tinley Park.

Activating all this makes a more ready market for the antique shops. People who go antiquing have an interest and are usually at a certain economic income level, and you’ll have a lot of that coming to the downtown area. There is a plan for all this, and part of it is to create that linkage. The road project is major. Ravinia will be fully signalized with heavy pedestrian features.

Mayor McLaughlin: This is a minor tie in, but when I came in as mayor Ravinia did not go all the way through to 159th Street. Now we’re going through to Costco. When something develops on that lower property, it will continue further south.

People taking the train will be able to get in their car and go all the way down Ravinia to about 162nd Street and almost never have to use LaGrange Road.

Ellen Baer: Having those collector streets are important for people who come here to shop and residents who want to get in and out of the shopping centers. And those just driving through. They all have other routes to take.

Mayor McLaughlin: If people have these other routes, and LaGrange Road is widened in the next year or two, the traffic flow will be less aggravating and people will return.

Paul Grimes: From a regional perspective, CMAP has Go to 2040, a comprehensive plan for the region. We think this is consistent with that. The regional folks are encouraging these for communities to endeavor upon. There is regional context in creating these links with transportation when planning out community.

We’ve engaged the folks at CMAP. We think they’ll be very supportive of this project because of the themes.

Patch: Which developer are you still in talks with?

Paul Grimes: Flaherty and Collins (Properties) out of Indianapolis are still interested. They have expressed interest in other parcels. That’s something we’ll address in the context of an agreement. I think a number of folks would be interested in future phases. We’ll let the market place drive that. Right now we’re focused on the first phase, which we hope to be a catalyst for future phases, and it generates excitement and traffic and people you need to beget the additional phases.

On Tuesday, village officials talked about what .

On Wednesday, officials discussed what led to .

On Friday, questions and answers will focus on talks with Plaza tenants and whether resources put into the Triangle can be recovered.

Andrea Williams June 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM
This sounds wonderful....really. Well thought out, excellent vision. Indeed, something I would be proud of and enjoy immensely as a resident. I also understand the need to adjust as conditions change. Here's the problem...it is't the village's job to make this happen. There are reasons why it has been so difficult to engage a developer....it is no longer economically feasible (if it even was in the first place). Baer is right, things have changed and now the village is stuck with this huge burden that we can't afford...now our property taxes aren't being rebated. Projects like this are laden with risk and sometimes things go bad, like the economy crashes. You all gambled and lost. Now the residents have to pick up the tab.
OrlandParker June 30, 2011 at 02:57 PM
One this is for sure, within the past 15 years we have had two up and down real estate markets. Today's economic downturn have both housing and commercial lending considered taboo, especially with such a significant project of this size and scope.   The plans have changed ...dramatically. Hence, why they are now choosing a developer from Carmel, Indiana who will develop "luxury" apartments.  I am frightened by the prospects of that being built. I don't really have a comfort that this development will be cohesive, and will end up being a hodge podge of unattractive buildings with uninspiring architecture.  Should that happen we, the residents of Orland Park, will be left with a mess and burden for many years to come.  It is too late at this point to turn back, with all that has been 'invested' in terms of public funds.  I would exercise caution and hire a competent firm to oversee and lead the development effort.
Andrea Williams June 30, 2011 at 04:13 PM
I agree with everything you said except that it is too late to turn back. It is true; we cannot go back and "unspend" our investment. However, what solvent investors do when economic conditions change as drastically is re-evaluate the financial soundness of moving forward. One of the hardest principles of finance for people to understand, is that money that is already spent is "sunk" and should not be considered in making a decision to move forward. The project needs to be evaluated from TODAY forward for financial feasibility. Those who mistakenly consider all the money already thrown at a project in making future decisions often lose their shirts because the principle is not a strategically sound way to do business. Some may argue that government does not play by the same rules as businesses. That may be true, unless they are getting into roles and functions that are typically NOT government functions, like real estate development. If that is the case, they need to get acquainted with sound business evaluation strategies real quick or they are not serving their constituency very well. Regardless of the nature of any expenditure, government needs to abide by the same financial discipline as the private sector.
frank June 30, 2011 at 05:05 PM
To Andrea: You make sense to me. Thanks Has anyone from the mayor's office ever tried to contact you? It seems like they would need a little help. Do you think they know that the bad shape we are in now may began to resolve itself in the year 2020? City planners in Glendale, California are bridled with a huge fiasco. The taxpayers of Orland Park will wake up one day and realize that they should be more civic minded and get out and VOTE! Have a good 4th. <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Andrea Williams June 30, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Thanks Frank....I try. :-) I had to LOL at your comment about anyone in the Mayor's office trying to contact me. Here's the history. My husband, Steve, feels the same way I do about this project and other aspects of the village business that he feels could be better managed. He ran for trustee last April against McLaughlin's slate (the incumbents). The campaigns were pretty brutal, as I'm sure you remember. So, I don't think anyone in the Mayor's office will be contacting me :-) My door is certainly open though - I would do whatever I could to support this community.
Megan James July 01, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Frank - Good points...but I think you know by now that the Village Mayor & Board will never admit to needing help. That would mean they'd have to admit to making a mistake. Hope the taxpayers/voters do wake up one day. So sad that right after this last election, the Mayor said he felt winning the election with technically only about 9% of the actually registered voters vote, that we all supported them. :-(
Megan James July 06, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Again...missing Andrea's last comment...but parts of it are shown when you click on her name. Really started to wonder why they're not showing here anymore. Prehaps only those "pro-Triangle" comments get to stay after a while, so the Village doesn't feel guilty about how their actions are impacting us.
Megan James July 06, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Missing several of my previous comments too. And nothing was in violation of the posting rules in those, so guess we're just being censored unfairly. :-(

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