Wheaton Park District officials finally can take a deep breath.
They've been worrying ever since Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials announced plans in December to sell the old Hubble Middle School site.
If they lost access to the site, park leaders said, they'd have to cut programs and use other facilities to cover roughly 90,000 hours worth of yearly activities.
So when park officials heard the buyer was a company they already have a relationship with, they expelled a collective sigh of relief.
"We are absolutely thrilled," Executive Director Mike Benard said. "This is the best possible outcome."
District 200 announced Tuesday that Chicago-based Bradford Equities LLC will buy the 22-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Roosevelt and Naperville roads. The company said Thursday that it plans to build a Mariano's Fresh Market grocery store at the site and expects it to open in spring 2013.
But more importantly to park officials, a Bradford spokesman said the company plans to sell 13 acres not suitable for development to the park district.
Bradford and the park district had partnered to make an offer on the site in May, but spokesman Chad Jones said the district faced too many hurdles to get the site developed.
Jones said Friday he remains in constant contact with park officials and hopes a deal will materialize in the next few weeks.
Jones lauded the highly traveled intersection as an ideal place for a Mariano's and said it was an easy decision to give up some buildable land to the park district.
"We felt keeping (the gyms) there was better for the overall neighborhood," he said. "We felt the gyms were what was best for the community."
Benard said despite the school district's Tuesday announcement of the sale, he still waited until the final vote before he believed it.
"Up until the gavel came down (Thursday) night, I was not complacent in the expectations of the outcome," he said. "After hearing the results, it was certainly time to celebrate. This is a very significant piece of action."
After the school district announced its intentions to sell the property, the park district started an aggressive push for the land.
Park officials tried to acquire the property before it was put out to auction and also tried to acquire the right of first refusal. Both overtures were rejected by the school board.
After two failed auctions by the school district, park officials in May announced the district had entered into a letter of intent with Bradford. The letter committed the park district to selling a portion of the land to the developer, who in turn committed to bringing in a grocery store. The deal, of course, was contingent on the park district acquiring the land.
"We took the lead because we believe very strongly in our vision of mixed use and wanted to make sure that was advocated as quickly as possible," Benard said.
Benard praised the work of the school district and said Thursday's action, in which the school board unanimously accepted Bradford's offer of $5,000,200, was a "win-win-win all around."
"The school set out with a goal, amended it and then met it," he said. "My hat is off to them."
Benard did not place a timeline on how quickly a deal can be struck with Bradford. But he said it would be as quickly as possible and the park district would schedule special meetings if necessary.
Along with the letter of intent, the park district in May released plans for the site that included a "green pathway" into downtown Wheaton, preservation of the north end of the building for the gymnasiums and renovated ball fields.
Benard said he doesn't foresee any issues with implementing those plans.
"It's great for the park district, school District 200, the city of Wheaton," Benard said. "You can't ask for a better day than this, regardless of the speed bumps along the way and differences of opinions. At the end of the day, Wheaton got it done."