June 23rd, 2016 10:50 AM
Water Tower Realty is requesting zoning variances to allow Bank of America to open a new branch in the historic Marshall Field's building. The building was last occupied by Borders Bookstore in 2011.| File photo
Water Tower Realty, owner of the historic Marshall Field's building at 1144 Lake St., was recently given a variance from Oak Park's zoning code to lease the rear half of the ground-level retail space to health insurance provider Harken Health on the retail-oriented commercial strip.
Now building owner is returning with the same request to lease the front half of the 13,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Borders Bookstore to Bank of America to open what he refers to as a "prototype financial center."
Harken Health will take up about 5,000 square feet in the north half of the building's ground floor.
Bank of America also needs a special-use permit to operate a financial institution in the downtown business district.
The downtown area is in what's known at village hall as a transit-related retail overlay district, which requires businesses opening in the district to be retail-oriented, so the district remains attractive to shoppers and contributes sales tax revenue to the village.
But Water Tower Realty owner Nicholas Karris has argued that he's had trouble filling the space since Borders vacated the building in 2011. Karris could not immediately be reached for comment, but he will appear before the village's Zoning Board of Appeals on July 6, at 7 p.m. at village hall to make its case for the variances.
Similar to a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals in March, Karris has argued that Water Tower has had difficulty finding a tenant for the location.
"After five years, we have been unable to secure a conforming use for the building's more prominent Lake Street and corner frontage," he said.
Karris added that Bank of America is "planning to launch a prototype financial center that will be rolled out to other facilities in the Chicago area and nationwide" that appeal to high-traffic areas "designed to complement the downtown aesthetic."
The centers will offer mortgage, investment, financial planning and small business lending services, Karris wrote. A Bank of America spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Karris wrote in the letter that the $2 million investment by Bank of America also will result in the creation of as many as 10 new jobs. Patrons of the bank will be encouraged to park at the nearby Holley Court parking garage to reduce traffic congestion and limit the impact on street parking, Karris wrote.
Max Austin-Williams, executive director of Downtown Oak Park, a business organization, said in an email that his group's zoning committee plans to vet the proposal and draft a recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
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