Grandt's could become a Mariano's gas station in Arlington Heights

Over the objection of the Arlington Heights Park District, the longstanding Grandt's Shell service station in Arlington Heights - known for its iconic rooftop rocket - could be converted into a Mariano's gas station.

Though sympathetic to the district's desire for more open space, members of the village's advisory plan commission unanimously endorsed the Mariano's proposal Wednesday night, saying previous real estate negotiations between the district and Grandt's are out of the panel's purview.

That ultimately leaves a final decision up to the village board next month.

The park district has long-sought the 18,150-square-foot property at Northwest Highway and Belmont Avenue so it could expand the footprint of neighboring Recreation Park, home to the district's premier baseball diamond and site of the annual Frontier Days festival.

But after the district submitted "a very low offer" to property owner Craig Grandt last fall, he took a competing offer from Mariano's, according to Jim Troutman of the Troutman & Dams commercial real estate firm. Troutman & Dams has the property under contract and plans to lease the land to Mariano's.

In its 4-1 recommendation of the project on June 23, the village's advisory design commission asked Mariano's to make every effort to preserve the rocket sign, including selling or giving it to the historical museum or arts commission. Tim Kratz, the project manager, said officials aren't opposed to salvaging it, and they understand its historical value.

Grandt and park district officials discussed a potential sale years ago, but couldn't come to terms. Park board Commissioner Rob Nesvacil said he believes the district made a "fair" offer in the latest round of talks based on comparables in the area.

The more recent discussions followed negotiations years ago that ended without a deal, Nesvacil said.

After making an offer and counter-offer last October, parks officials say they didn't hear from Grandt again. They learned about the Mariano's redevelopment proposal late last month.

Plans call for demolition of the Grandt's service station and removal of its four existing gas pumps - including one that still operates as a full-service pump.

Five new pumps and a small retail sales kiosk would be built on the site, located only blocks from a Mariano's grocery store, where officials are hoping to expand on their fuel rewards points program.

Dan Farrell, vice president of real estate at Mariano's parent company Roundy's, said the store parking lot is too small to fit a gas station, but he believes the nearby Grandt's site is well-suited because it's been a gas station for some time.

Still, Mariano's must get a special use permit that would allow an automobile service station on the property. Village officials say there's no record of such a permit for Grandt's, which has been in the village since 1928.

Though the site currently hosts a gas station, Nesvacil said keeping it that way doesn't fit with the park district's Recreation Park master plan, which was developed some two decades ago. The district has been acquiring properties adjacent to the park through the years - including single-family homes and two auto mechanic shops - but the Grandt's site and one other home have remained elusive.

The ultimate plan is to acquire the properties and preserve them as open space, perhaps with flower garden plantings, Nesvacil said.

He also argued the new gas station could lead to increased traffic in the area.

Troutman called the proposal a "positive" for the village, since leaking underground storage tanks would be removed and the property will remain on the tax rolls, providing increased sales and motor vehicle tax revenues to local coffers.

Troutman said he'd be willing to give the district right of first refusal to purchase the property if officials want to control it eventually - but only after it's been developed.

This sketch shows the proposed Mariano's gas station that would replace the longstanding Grandt's Shell at Northwest Highway and Belmont Avenue in Arlington Heights. But the park district, which operates nearby Recreation Park, opposes the plan. Courtesy of the village of Arlington Heights
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