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updated: 1/4/2010 2:12 PM

Libertyville's Fresh Foods: Gone but not forgotten?

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  • The steel structure in Libertyville, pictured here in October, was supposed to become a $10 million Fresh Foods store. Since the deal fell through, the structure is expected to be torn down.

      The steel structure in Libertyville, pictured here in October, was supposed to become a $10 million Fresh Foods store. Since the deal fell through, the structure is expected to be torn down.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2009


The partially completed steel structure on Libertyville's southern entry has lingered as an unwanted reminder of what might have been.

But with demolition apparently imminent, the physical evidence of a $10 million endeavor known as Fresh Foods will be erased.

"We're ready to issue (the permit). They have to get us the letter from ComEd and then disconnect their water and sewer," said John Spoden, the village's director of community development. "We have to have assurances there's nothing unsafe on the site."

So anxious is the village to have what has become an eyesore dismantled and the site cleared that it reduced the application fee for the permit from $2,500 to $500. American Demolition Corp. applied for the permit Dec. 22.

"I'm hoping it starts soon. I'm getting disappointed it isn't moving forward," said Mayor Terry Weppler.

Even though the structure will come down, the foundation and underground utilities will remain in place. Those involved with the venture say there's a reason for that and think the project can be revived.

"Should this deal come through, it could be restarted quickly," said Jim Stivers, who was the operations manager for the original developer and maintains an interest in the project.

Financing did not initially materialize as expected for a new group, Michigan-based DJB Venture LLC, but that may be resolved, he said.

"DJB did actually have a closing in January 2009, they have just been waiting for the lender to fund the closing," according to Stivers. "The people shouldn't take the tearing down of the structure as meaning it's completely dead."

When what's left at the former site of Frank's Nursery & Crafts on South Milwaukee Avenue near the village border with Vernon Hills is demolished, the open land will be bittersweet reminder of a plan greeted eagerly more than three years ago.

As originally proposed, Fresh Foods would be modeled after the Central Market chain in Texas. The 40,000-square-foot venture proposed by Lincolnwood developer Dean Theo would have been about one-third smaller than a typical supermarket but would feature a mix of gourmet, natural and organic foods and other features, such as a cooking school and online ordering.

A building permit was issued in March 2007, but worked stopped in August of that year and has been idle since. In July 2008, the village filed suit against Theo seeking demolition.

DJB Venture emerged in January 2009 and vowed to finish the project with an opening by last Labor Day. But the village's lawsuit was hindering its financing, the group said.

A deal was struck in which the village would drop the suit against Theo in return for $27,000 in legal fees. The new owner was to have deposited $100,000 in escrow in the event that deal soured.

"DJB is very much interested," Stivers said. "It's just been a funding issue."

Tired of waiting, the village pushed the matter. In late October, a court order required the partially completed building be torn down.

"We're right there," said Village Attorney David Pardys. "I wish it were a faster process but it just isn't."

Weppler said the property was in foreclosure but that the village still would get its legal fees if a bank takes it over.

Spoden said there has been interest in the site and the village is "wide open" to commercial possibilities.

Investors have been told the grocery store concept would be a moneymaker, Stivers said.

"The Michigan group is still trying to get this thing done," he said. "I believe it is going to happen."