Wheeling mayoral candidates weigh in on future of defunct Kmart
The abandoned Kmart at the northeast corner of Route 83 and Dundee Road has been a thorn in the side of Wheeling village officials for years.
Now, two of three village president hopefuls vying for the seat April 7 say they would forcibly take the property for redevelopment.
"It seems to be the only way to go forward," said Judy Abruscato, 72, a village trustee for 22 years. "Something needs to be done and I think condemnation is something that we probably need to look at. It's been there long enough. Whenever we can (condemn) it, we'll do it, be it after election or before."
Kmart, which along with Sears, is owned by Hoffman Estates-based retailer Sears Holdings Corp., closed its Wheeling store in 2002.
The village tried once before to condemn the 9-acre site, and briefly had a contract to buy the property for $10 million from its out-of-town owners.
Officials say that deal fell apart because the developer interested in building a shopping center on the property backed out, and the seller's asking price was too high.
Candidate David Kolssak, 39, a small-business owner and member of the Chicago Executive Airport board, said the property owner is part of the problem why the site hasn't been developed yet.
"I think that without the condemnation process being started you've got a land owner there who doesn't have any incentive to sell the property because he doesn't live here," Kolssak said.
Over the years, prospective developers have given the property owner money, including the village, which paid $125,000 as part of the contract to buy the site.
The owner "is not really eager to sell this property because it's not hurting him in any way," Kolssak said. "He doesn't have to look at it. We have to look at it."
Kolssak criticized the current village board for not condemning the property long ago and for failure to provide adequate financial incentives to address the on-site stormwater detention problems.
Candidate Patrick Horcher said incentives had nothing to do with it and the deal died because the developer could not secure tenants for the shopping center.
"It is a victim of the market," Horcher said. "The big box users that these developers had relationships with are just not building. We dropped the condemnation because this developer came along and promised everybody the world, and I think we all bought into it."
Horcher, 45, who's been on the village board 14 years, is against forcibly taking the property regardless of how long it takes to redevelop it.
"I think we already have too much property that we control," he said. "We have means of controlling development aside from owning property. If we can't do it with planning and zoning, and economic incentives, why do we have to buy it."