Just steps from the heart of Oak Lawn, the Beatty Lumber site sits vacant, an eyesore on 52nd Ave. Neighbors regularly complain of rodents and overgrown weeds. On the east side of 52nd sit buildings that many residents consider a fire hazard. On the west side, more of the same, plus a large open yard, sometimes used to park excess dealer vehicles.
Turn back the clock to late summer of 2012. Things didn’t look much different. Same dilapidated buildings, same empty lots, possibly different pests.
But unlike today, three years ago there were high-level discussions about redeveloping the site. The property owner, a property developer, Advocate Christ Medical Center, and Oak Lawn Village officials all took part in meetings through the fall.
The development would have been known as Center Point of Oak Lawn. As a partnership between the Village, the hospital, and the developer, the concept was to provide retail, office, and medical space, in addition to a community wellness center.
The developer, RSA Properties, LLC, brought on award-winning architectural and design firm DesignBridge Ltd. DesignBridge took the high level concepts discussed and produced a set of architectural renderings and floor plans. The purpose was to provide a focal point, to show how the different needs of the various parties could coexist in a single development. The result was certainly eye-catching.
According to design concept notes, the development would have included quite the list of amenities. The community wellness center would have meeting rooms, a 4-lane lap pool, locker rooms, a presentation area, nutrition center, and an outdoor terrace for an herb garden, outdoor exercise, and summer gatherings.
The medical use area could have up to thirty exam rooms and doctors’ offices per floor. According to Village Manager Larry Deetjen, Advocate Pediatrics and another division were looking to integrate with the proposed development. A pediatrics center may have proven symbiotic with the Children’s Museum just the other side of the Metra station.
The design would have also supported 8,000 square feet of retail and food space, with an outdoor plaza for food service and general community use.
Discussions soon fell apart, though. Politics came into play. An acrimonious election cycle was in full swing.
Then-Mayor Dave Heilmann was a key force behind the Center Point development, along with Trustee Bob Streit (District 3). Opposition to the plan came from Trustee Alex Olejniczak (District 2) and then-Trustee Tom Phelan (District 6). Phelan was campaign manager for Heilmann’s mayoral opponent, Sandra Bury.
Phelan fancied himself a financial wunderkind and involved himself deeply in Village financial matters. To this day, his influence is felt in the financials of the Village, despite being out of office for nearly three years. Phelan was a vocal proponent of levying an “impact fee” on Advocate Christ Medical Center. The impact fee agreement is a short-term plan wherein Advocate Christ Medical Center voluntarily contributes money to Village coffers.
Heilmann wrote, “I think it would be a far better long term move if we can build a new senior/community wellness and health center on the Beatty site than putting seniors in a room in a bank. I believe we should try to partner with Advocate on this because it would be within their mission, provide us assistance financially in paying for it, help us to give the community an indoor lap pool which is something we have never had for residents, and get us an Advocate long term presence on the site, including a nurse who could be an invaluable asset for seniors with daily questions and concerns.”
Heilmann also wrote, “Advocate said that it is willing to partner on such a project, but said that they cannot be partner on the new senior wellness center and pay any impact fee. I believe that the commitment from Advocate both financially and long term in services would be far greater for a senior/community wellness center than any impact fee and that the Village would be well served to make this senior/community wellness center an immediate priority and advise Advocate of this so that we can get this built for residents and keep an open dialogue going for other projects that Advocate may be able to assist with in the future, such as long needed improvements/developments for a SW Highway medical district.”
The campaign rhetoric kicked into full gear, with Bury’s Phelan-run marketing soon spinning the development meetings as “backroom deals.” Phelan went so far as to suggest that Heilmann had a conflict of interest, because Advocate honored Heilmann as their 2012 “Man of the Year.”
Needless to say, when Sandra Bury won the election, the Beatty plan was dead. Bury attempted to move the senior center to Park District land in a complicated land swap. That plan was eventually dropped when the Oak Lawn Park District terminated discussions, with Park officials stating their a lack of trust in the Village administration.
As a result, there is no permanent senior center for Oak Lawn residents. The blight of the Beatty Lumber site remains. And all the Village got out of it was a little over $1 million in impact fees, which could soon stop flowing.