Signs of life in Oak Park Mall deal?

Published 10:22 am Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hy-Vee focused on expanding store, but new location not ruled out

The Oak Park Mall redevelopment deal may not be dead after all.

Though Hy-Vee officials confirmed Thursday their focus is now on expanding its current store, Hy-Vee hasn’t ruled out pursuing a new 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot grocery store in place of the mall.

A representative from The Bon-Ton Stores, the parent company of Younkers confirmed Wednesday it was still in talks with Hy-Vee attorneys to redevelop the property, but Hy-Vee Assistant Vice President of Communications Tara Deering-Hansen said talks weren’t necessarily continuing negotiations.

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“We would still entertain the project, but at this time we are focused on expanding our existing store and defining those plans given the breakdown of discussions,” Deering-Hansen said.

The city of Austin announced Monday it would cease negotiations as the middleman in an economic development deal to buy the mall for $3.2 million and contribute part of the $3 million demolition project necessary for the new Hy-Vee grocery story.

The city entered into a purchase agreement with Oak Park Ltd. Partnership — the company formed by Chicago-based Martin Graff of M H Graff & Associates Inc. and Martin Goldman of M J Goldman & Co. Ltd. — last October to redevelop the mall site.

Yet ongoing negotiations proved difficult. The city not only had to work with the Oak Park Mall owners, but attorneys from Younkers, Shopko and Cinemagic 7 to get a demolition project off the ground so the property could be handed over to Hy-Vee. In February, the city was forced to drop its purchase agreement after the 90-day agreement period expired.

Attorneys with The Bon-Ton Stores, the parent company of Younkers, approved and sent out a final draft of an agreement for the city to last month to allow the project to move forward. That agreement included a $250,000 incentive for Younkers to remodel, as well as 18 months of free rent. But the company changed its draft a week later after their attorneys drew up an additional 22 stipulations.

That deadlock effectively killed the deal, according to city officials. A Bon-Ton spokesperson said the company had mostly agreed to the deal’s financial terms but wanted additional stipulations to protect its property, such as agreements common space and maintenance concerns.

The city couldn’t work out an agreement over the last several weeks. Oak Park Mall leadership advised the city it was out of time once again, and Hy-Vee needed answers on whether to build a new store or renovate its old one.