Barrington village president candidate Mike Kozel never liked the idea in the first place, but now the status of the approved office-retail development on the southwest corner of Hough and Main streets has become a prime focus of the final days of his write-in campaign against incumbent Karen Darch.
In literature Kozel's campaign is distributing this week, he claims that the Evanston-based developer has abandoned the project after failing to line up the required number of tenants by what he describes as the development agreement's March 19 expiration.
On Thursday, Kozel acknowledged having learned of a 45-day extension to the agreement, but he characterized the extension as a publicity stunt to get through the election Tuesday.
Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said March 19 would be more accurately characterized as a trigger date for the village to monitor the developer's progress and determine whether an extension was necessary or justified. When the project was approved in December, the village imposed such threshold dates to ensure the developer wasn't idling, he said.
"Every sign that we've seen is of them actively marketing the site," Lawler said.
As long as such positive progress continues, the village would be willing to extend the agreement beyond the next trigger date as well, he said. The developer won't be allowed to start construction until there are signed leases for at least 50 percent of the project.
Darch said she was pleased with the progress of the project and believed the village is right in allowing the work to continue.
"It's moving forward and we're very happy to see that," she said. "We want this project to succeed. We want that corner to be vibrant."
The developers, too, said they're confident about their marketing campaign as it stands three months after the project's approval.
"We're happy with the progress we're making," said Bruce Reid, president and chief operating officer of development partner Arthur Hill & Co. "We're continuing to spend money on the project. We've always liked this location."
On Thursday, engineers were staking out the outline of the building pad to give prospective tenants a better sense of the site and its surroundings, Reid said.
The proposal calls for an L-shaped building with an 18,000-square-foot ground floor at the corner of Hough and Main streets and a one-story, 6,000-square-foot building just west of it.
The larger building may be either two or three stories tall, the upper floors being reserved for office space.
And that's the heart of Kozel's criticisms. He believes the upper floors should be reserved for residential apartments.
"I think the project is not good for Barrington, as now conceived," Kozel said. "I believe we need residential in our downtown. That's where we should look to get our downtown moving in the right direction."
While Kozel argues there's no market for new office space in the area, Reid said his firm believes there is a market for the unique, differentiated office space it's proposing.
Reid added that his firm has never argued that residential wouldn't work on the site, but believes the kind of office space it has in mind would be a higher and better use.
"If we're right, it's not only going to be good for us, it's going to be good for the taxing bodies," Reid said. "We think it's worth the risk and if we're right, the project goes ahead and the tax benefits are higher."
Such tax benefits would help lower the tax burden on existing residents, Reid said.
He added that it was strange for him to see people who aren't leasing agents for his firm claiming to have such inside knowledge of the project. But he said he was reluctant to play any role in the village's electoral process and he stands willing to work with whomever is elected.
It's absolutely true, though, that the firm intends to see the project through, Reid said.
"We haven't abandoned the project," he said. "We asked for the extension."