Wheaton mayor: Apartment project expected to ‘move forward’ downtown

Wheaton leaders say they have awarded building permits to a developer planning to breathe new life into the south side of the downtown with a major residential project.

“We're very confident that that project is moving forward,” Mayor Phil Suess said. “In fact, they've already taken out their building permits. So we do expect that project to move forward.”

The developer aims to build one of the largest apartment complexes in the downtown in recent memory. The project calls for putting more than 300 apartments on the city block bounded by Liberty Drive to the north, Hale Street to the east, Willow Avenue to the south and Wheaton Avenue to the west.

“This is basically the fourth development in downtown of this scale. And the thing to keep in mind is those other three developments are full,” Suess said Monday.

The last such development — the Wheaton 121 complex at Front and Cross streets — opened its doors to residents more than a decade ago. Since then, the city has invested in new infrastructure, a cohesive downtown streetscape and public gathering spaces, with the expectation that private investment would follow.

“That has very much happened,” Suess said. “You can look at Hale Street, and you can look at each of the buildings on Hale Street that's been renovated. You can point to the buildings that have been renovated or are being renovated on Main Street.”

Crowds flock to an outdoor dining zone on Hale Street — what started as a pandemic necessity for nearby restaurants. More recently, retailers have set up shop close to the al fresco dining scene and across from the site of the planned apartment complex.

“I think from our perspective, the pieces are falling together, and you are seeing the private investment come into the city,” Suess said.

The mayor also referred to the apartment project as a “strictly private investment.” It would not be eligible for tax increment financing dollars because a downtown TIF district expired in December 2022. Earlier that year, the city council voted to rezone the downtown site to allow the construction of a mixed-use building on the block.

“I think the biggest issue is just the financial markets,” Suess said. “To their credit, they did a very good job in assembling the properties and closing on the properties so they own all the properties. I think the bigger issue really is just the financial elements of this with interest rates and also the ability of getting equity partners.”

  The Egg Harbor Cafe building in downtown Wheaton would be torn down to clear the way for a planned apartment complex that would also incorporate a new space for the breakfast restaurant. Brian Hill/, April 2022

The developer initially intended to demolish four older buildings to pave the way for the complex. Those included the Egg Harbor Cafe restaurant, a four-story brick office building formerly occupied by Wheaton Bank & Trust, the Perfect Thing consignment store, and a house also used as offices on Willow Avenue. The developer then moved to acquire adjacent corner parcels.

“They bought and closed on the properties. They've submitted their building permits, which have been approved and issued, so I think those are two very positive statements as to their ability and interest in proceeding,” Suess said Monday.

As originally proposed, the apartment building would have a mix of unit types within walking distance of the Metra train station. The development also would set aside first-floor space for Egg Harbor.

Suess said there’s a high demand for apartment space in the downtown areas and the suburbs in particular.

“The attraction of this I think is very much towards empty nesters,” Suess said. “I think it’s towards young professionals starting out and, again, folks who want to be in the downtown area.”

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