It’s been almost a year since real estate developers, tax consultants and a hopeful aldermanic candidate presented plans for a radical overhaul of the northeast corner of Harlem and North avenues in Chicago, across the street from Oak Park.
The plan for the property which houses a Sears department store, included construction of a Mariano’s grocery store and a rebuilt Sears. At the time, officials repeatedly reminded residents that the plan was preliminary. Money from a tax increment finance district would fund the project, they said.
Now, a year later, the new alderman of Chicago’s 29th Ward, where the Sears is located, says the proposal was never realistic and perpetuated by one of his election-season opponents.
“I knew during the campaign that Mariano’s was no longer considering that location,” Taliaferro said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, there were some candidates running for office that felt like getting up the hopes of the residents.”
Taliaferro declined to give the names of the candidates who he says pushed the idea of a rebuilt North and Harlem, but added, “They knew it wasn’t a viable location [for the store.]”
“I think it was bad politics,” he said.
Taliaferro’s main rival in that election, former 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham, touted the project as an economic boon for the ward.
Taliaferro told constituents earlier this month that word from the city’s Department of Planning and Development is that the deal is dead. Taliaferro said he had heard that the deal was dead because of Sears’ involvement.
Sears spokesman Howard Riefs declined to comment on the project, but noted in an email that the store was sold earlier this year to Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust. Sears sold 235 of its Sears and Kmart stores earlier this year for $2.7 billion in a deal that entailed Seritage leasing the stores back to Sears, according to a Sears press release issued in July.
Steven D. Wagner, chief vice president of retail leasing for Continental Properties, which purported to serve as developer of the property last year at the public meeting, declined to comment for the story, directing calls to Sears.
Michael S. Laube, who worked as a consultant on the deal, told residents last year that his firm was working to establish a tax increment finance district in the area to help fund construction. Laube also declined to comment for this story, directing calls to Sears.
Taliaferro declined to reveal his source but said the city of Chicago never would approve the use of TIF funds for the project because of the failing financial outlook for Sears.
The city also lost millions in TIF funds to help open a Sears store on State Street in downtown Chicago more than a decade ago. That location closed its doors last year.
Taliaferro said he has submitted a proposed location to the Department of Planning and Development for Mariano’s to open a store at a shopping center at the corner of Fullerton and Grand avenues. It is uncertain how long the city will review the document to determine if such a project is feasible, he said.
Mariano’s spokesman James Hyland declined to comment for the story, but said in an email: “You are correct in that we were originally approached by the developer and expressed interest in becoming a tenant for the proposed development [at North and Harlem] but we have not entered into a lease arrangement. Any status updates on the development would need to come from Sears and/or the developer.”
Judith Alexander, chair of North Avenue Zoning and Development Advisory Committee and co-founder of the North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park, said in a telephone interview that she has heard that Mariano’s still is interested in the Harlem and North location.
Alexander said in a recent newsletter that Taliaferro told residents that “Mariano’s is not coming to North/Harlem unless Sears agrees to sell their parking lot east of the store.”