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EP mayor: Marketplace construction to begin soon

  • Written by Joe Boyle

plaza rubble photo 6-16

Photo by Joe Boyle

Slabs of concrete are what remains of what was once The Plaza at 95th Street and Western Avenue in Evergreen Park.

Construction plans for the new Evergreen Marketplace, which is replacing the demolished Plaza shopping center, will begin sometime this summer, according to Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton.

“All of the buildings are mostly down except for Carson’s,” said Sexton on Friday. “In a month or so, plans are scheduled to begin for construction of the Marketplace. Everything is going well, it’s ahead of schedule. All of us are very excited.”

Sexton delivered the first blow with a sledgehammer to the old Montgomery Ward’s building during the demolition proceedings of The Plaza last fall. The beginning of the demolition drew a large crowd to witness this event.

The Evergreen Plaza opened in 1952 as an open-air shopping center developed by Arthur Rubloff. The shopping center grew in popularity and became one of the first enclosed malls in the country in 1966. The mall at its peak in the 1970s had Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward’s, Woolworth’s, Lytton’s and Walgreens.

While still profitable in the 1980s, the opening of the Chicago Ridge Mall in 1981 and to a degree the expansion of the Orland Park Mall led to the Plaza’s demise. After Montgomery Ward closed in 2001, the Plaza suffered through numerous more vacancies escalated by the recession in 2008. By 2013, The Plaza was virtually closed with the exception of Carson’s and a couple of other businesses.

Sexton said he had fond memories of The Plaza. But the Evergreen Park mayor said its time had passed and a retail center with 25 to 30 stores will be more efficient. A visit to the old Plaza site on Saturday was mostly rubble until traveling further south where Carson’s is located. The other symbol of the old shopping center is The Plaza sign that is still located at the corner of 95th Street and Western Avenue. The lone traffic that goes into the parking lot now is for an Applebee’s that faces 95th Street not far from The Plaza sign.

The Evergreen Park mayor said that Applebee’s will remain at an outlet restaurant for the new mall. However, the current Carson’s will be torn down in the fall and will be replaced by a more modern Carson’s. Sexton said that the first retailers will start to occupy portions of the new Evergreen Marketplace in the spring of 2017.

“We can’t wait to see them opening up,” said Sexton “We want to hear those cash registers sing.”

Businesses that are scheduled to occupy the 400,000-foot-square facility over 32 parcels are T.J. Maxx, DSW Shoes, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Petco and a 365 Whole Foods Market, which is a more economical version of the Austin, Texas-based chain.

This project is being led by Lorimax Stein Development, based out of Bloomfield Hills, MIch., and partner DeBartolo Development. A Lorimax representative said that the project should be completed by the fall of 2017.

Sexton can’t help but see the irony over retailers contacting the village frequently to be located in Evergreen Park. It was not that long ago, especially after the economic downturn in 2008, that retailers avoided Evergreen Park, the mayor said.

“Things have changed tremendously,” said Sexton. “I have been trying to persuade developers to come to Evergreen Park. The past six or seven years have been a struggle but it has been changing. But it isn’t all me, it is through the hard work of our attorney, commissioners and trustees that we have turned this around.”

Sexton said prospects have changed so dramatically for Evergreen Park that the village can be more stringent when allowing businesses into the community.

“Retailers have discovered the area.” said Sexton. “Instead of filling places with cellphone companies, we can be more selective. I think it’s because of our overall team. It’s certainly not me.”

But the bottom line for Sexton is that the economic future for Evergreen Park looks bright.

“We are glad to have these businesses,” said Sexton. “We are glad they are coming.”

New deacon has roots in St. Gerald Parish

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

fekete and wine photo 6-9

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Newly ordained Deacon Michael Fekete participates in the Mass of Thanksgiving for him at St. Gerald Church in Oak Lawn on Sunday, June 5.

 

The St. Gerald parish family celebrated one of their own becoming a deacon, a first for the oldest parish in Oak Lawn, with a Mass of Thanksgiving for newly ordained Deacon Michael Fekete on Sunday at the church, 9310 S. 55th Ave.        

Fekete was among 13 deacons from the Chicago Archdiocese whom Archbishop Blase Cupich ordained on Saturday at Holy Name Cathedral. They were the first to be ordained by Cupich since he succeeded Cardinal Francis George in 2014.

Deacons are clerical positions in the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike priests, they may be married. Their duties include community ministry and conducting baptisms and funerals. Deacons may perform most parts of the Mass, except for the consecration of the host for Holy Communion.

So, while the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, the St. Gerald pastor, was the chief celebrant of the Mass, Fekete read the Gospel and gave a homily afterward. About 10 other priests and deacons from parishes throughout the Chicago area were also concelebrants, including Deacons Timothy Keating, of St. Alexander in Palos Heights, and Edwin Hill, of Our Lady of the Ridge in Chicago Ridge.

The parish chapter of the Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard for the clergymen during the procession before and after Mass.

Fekete and his wife, Mary Jo, have been very active in St. Gerald Parish in various ways since moving to Oak Lawn with their son, Justin, about 12 years ago. Justin, who is going into his senior year at Mount Carmel High School, gave a reading at his father’s Thanksgiving Mass.

In addition to Mary Jo being one of the church organists, the couple are known for their singing voices, and are often called on to perform at weddings and other occasions.

Mike and Marcie Colantone, who spent 54 years in St. Gerald, were among the parishioners who came back to congratulate Fekete.

“We had to come back to see him. He sang at our 50th wedding anniversary, and he is an all-around great guy,” said Marcie.

The Feketes are originally from Pittsburgh, something the new deacon alluded to in his homily, which was about different types of miracles.

“One type of miracle might be watching our favorite hockey team playing in the Stanley Cup Finals,” he said, before adding something Blackhawks fans weren’t expecting, “We all know that team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.”

But they applauded their favorite son anyway.

The new deacon thanked his family for coming from Pittsburgh and elsewhere for the event, noting that they came from Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and Ohio. He singled out his father, Joseph, “my best friend,” and father-in-law Joseph Streppa, for special thanks

Sadly, his mother, Catherine Fekete, died on March 21, followed by his mother-in-law, JoAnn Streppa, on April 3. He said he missed them both, but felt their presence in the church.

“My mother picked out these vestments,” he said of his green and gold flowing garments. “So she will always be close to me.”

“But this isn’t really about me. This is about our community of Oak Lawn, and the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said.

“I considered working full-time in a lay position in the Church, but I felt a calling to be a deacon,” said Fekete, who is the director of international services at Lewis University. “It took a long time. But it was worth it,” he said.

“Ordinarily, the process of becoming a deacon takes four years, but it took me 11, because I did everything part-time.”

“I was required to get my master’s degree in theology,” said Fekete, who attended the Institute of Diaconal Studies in Mundelein.

“But again, it is not about me. It is about how the role in the whole Oak Lawn community,” he added. Fekete said his particular focus will be on bereavement ministry.

“Archbishop Cupich’s long-term plan is for parishes to work closely together and with the community, and I want to be involved in that.”

Cecilia Olejniczak, who has been a St. Gerald parishioner for 66 years, including 60 as the church organist, said she was happy to see a parishioner finally become a deacon.

“We have had priests and nuns, but this is our first home-grown deacon,” said Olejniczak, who raised her nine children in the parish, which dates back to 1921. Her youngest, Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), was busy with the Holy Name Society preparing the chicken and other hot food for the reception.

“I think it is great how the entire St. Gerald community has come together to celebrate,” said Annamarie Blaha, one of the organizers, as she scanned the crowd at the reception in the Jonathan Collins Activity Center.

“From the Holy Name and all of the ministries, organizations, nuns and students, this brought us all together, and I think it is just because everyone likes him,” she said.

“Having Deacon Fekete is going to be great for the parish,” said Malcolm. “I hope he inspires some of these other guys to do the same thing,” he said with a grin.

Oak Lawn settles lawsuit with former business operations director

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Oak Lawn Village Board recently approved a $10,000 financial settlement, described as a money-saving decision that puts to rest a former village employee’s lawsuit claiming he lost his job for political reasons in 2013.

Chad Weiler, the village’s former business operations director, named Village Manager Larry Deetjen and the village of Oak Lawn as defendants in the original federal lawsuit filed in July 2014. The suit, which U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly dismissed in February, claimed that Weiler was targeted in a “secret hit list” for political retaliation because he had displayed a campaign yard sign in support of former Mayor Dave Heilmann and Melissa Moran, who was Heilmann’s running mate for village clerk, in the April 9, 2013 election.

Although the lawsuit was thrown out, Weiler planned to appeal the decision, and village trustees voted 5-1 to approve the financial settlement paying Weiler $10,000 in order to put the matter to rest. Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) cast the only dissenting vote.

“I fully support the settlement for saving the village money. I stand by the ruling of the federal judge who found in our favor,” noted Mayor Sandra Bury when the settlement was announced at the Village Board meeting on May 24. She said it was a fiscally responsible decision that benefited Oak Lawn taxpayers.

Bury, who beat Heilmann in the 2013 mayoral election, also asserted that Heilmann had provided legal assistance to Weiler in this case.

In August 2013, Oak Lawn trustees voted 4-2 to eliminate Weiler’s department in a move they said would save village taxpayers $50,000.

But Weiler’s lawsuit claimed that the decision of the village board to eliminate his position was made after he made accusations against Deetjen regarding JenCare’s request that year for a parking variation that would have allowed the medical company to lease space for a clinic in the former House of Brides building at 5433 W. 95th St., in the downtown area.

Deetjen recommended an alternative location at the vacant Men’s Wearhouse site at 6101 W. 95th St., where JenCare runs a clinic now. Weiler’s suit claimed that the village manager’s recommendation that JenCare would be better located on the “outskirts of town” meant Deetjen wanted to keep the primarily black and Hispanic JenCare clientele out of downtown.

But JenCare officials have said the Men’s Wearhouse location better suited their needs, and village officials did not mistreat them.

Evergreen Park mayor informs prospective businesses that the bar has risen

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

 

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton had a clear message during the board meeting on Monday night for any prospective businesses looking to locate in the village.

“We have stepped up in the quality of retail being allowed in our community. We don’t take leftovers anymore,” Sexton said.

Sexton’s comments came following a request for approval of business certificates for three businesses in a proposed strip center at 9601 S. Pulaski Road.

Faris Sweis was seeking approval for a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-through, a smoke shop and a cellular retail store on the parcel of land formerly occupied by Fox Collision Center.

“I am not thrilled with the prospect of a smoke shop and a cellphone store. We have enough cellphone stores to sink a ship,” said Sexton.

Sweis’ request hit a snag at the mention of the 24 hours of operation and the drive-through for the Dunkin’ Donuts store, in spite of his plans for sound-absorbing material being placed in the drive-through.

As discussion ensued, Trustee Mark Marzullo insisted that the speakers on the order box would have to be turned off at 10 p.m., or the 24-hour permit would go away.

“If I was the guy living behind the store, I would not want to be hearing people order coffee at all hours of the night,” he said.

With additional questions about the noise level in the drive-through, amount of traffic and entry and exit lanes, Trustee Daniel McKeown moved to table the request to allow for further review.

Other business certificates were approved for Consultants in Cardiology at 2850 W. 95th St.-Suite 202; Health is Wealth Wellness Center at 3830 W. 95th St.; and Weight Loss, Inc. at 9500 S. Avers Ave.

Also approved was a resolution allowing an amendment to the village code regarding outdoor seating for restaurants. The approval will allow for an outdoor seating area, with three to four tables, at the Porter Cullen restaurant, 3541 W. 95th St. The business is owned by Mike McGrath. The seating will only be available until dusk. Approval came with a 5-1 vote, with Marzullo voting “No.”

Sexton said the approval was only on a trial basis and asked for assurance from McGrath, who was present at the meeting, that he would move patrons inside as soon as it began to get dark. McGrath responded that it would be a “move in or move on” policy for his customers.

“If there are any problems with it, it will be gone, with no discussion,” said Sexton

The request for the outdoor seating last month had raised concerns about the closeness of a parking lot adjacent to the proposed dining area. McGrath said provisions had been made to provide a safety barrier at the site.

Also approved for the restaurant was an ordinance allowing the facility to be open on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to midnight, adding an additional hour of operation.

An ordinance was also approved giving the village the right to purchase the property at 3310 W. 97th St. at a cost of $25,000. Sexton said the future of the building on the property will be discussed in later meetings.

The board also approved a lease agreement with St. Xavier University to allow a resource and assessment center for children ages 0 to 3 years with special needs at 9547 S. Homan Ave. The center will occupy the first floor of the building.

Sexton recognized Income tax coordinator Marge Woods for her presentation of a $2,000 check towards the planned purchase of a new mini-bus for Senior Services. Woods works with low- to middle-income clients to help them prepare their tax forms. The village provides space for the services.

At the start of the board meeting, Sexton asked for a moment of silence in honor of Anna Dykstra, former officer of Citizen Services for the village, who died last week at age 84.

“She was an extraordinary volunteer who served on nearly every committee for the village,” said Sexton. “She was a very special lady.”

Worth mayor is grateful for expansion of marijuana pilot program

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Worth Mayor Mary Werner was concerned when Gov. Rauner refused to extend the deadline of the pilot program for medicinal marijuana dispensaries and additional illnesses that the state would cover.

Werner admitted she was surprised last week when Rauner reversed his decision and said the pilot program would be extended from Jan. 1, 2018 to July 1, 2020. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, will be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions. Werner would like to see more illnesses added but said this is a good start.

“Well, we were very grateful,” said Werner. “It took us so long to go through the licensing process that we have had not much time to see the program develop because of the delay.”

The original four-year pilot program for medical marijuana dispensaries began in 2013. Former Gov. Quinn approved the idea but when Rauner was elected in 2014, he wanted to review the proposal. Rauner eventually made some appointments to the advisory board and had tighter restrictions on what illnesses could be treated with medicinal marijuana.

Rauner, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-82nd) and state Rep. Lou Lang (D-16th) compromised last week on the pilot program. Included in the compromise besides the extension and the addition of PTSD was that doctors no longer have to recommend cannabis for patients. Physicians would still have to make it known that a doctor-patient relationship exists and that the patient has a qualifying condition. However, doctors no longer have to recommend medical marijuana.

This had been a sticking point for doctors who did not want to be accused of promoting the use of medical marijuana as a cure. Proponents have stated repeatedly that the use of medical marijuana is not a cure but will provide relief for someone suffering pain from an illness or disease.

Both the House and Senate bills were passed last week. Rauner is expected to sign both. Once the bills are presented on his desk, the governor will have up to 60 days to sign them into law.

“Oh yeah, we are very pleased,” said Steve Weisman, CEO of Windy City Cannabis, which runs several dispensaries in the south and southwest suburbs that includes the Worth location at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. “We are pleased that the governor now recognizes the importance of this program.”

Weisman said that newly instituted laws will provide more balance to the Illinois health advisory board.

“It is our hope that the governor will add more illnesses to the list of qualifying conditions,” said Weisman. “But I believe with the new law reconstituting changes with the advisory board, more sympathetic board members will encourage the governor to add more illnesses.”

But Weisman added that, “I’m hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Werner said that it was due to the delays from the Rauner administration that the Worth dispensary did not open until January. A capacity crowd attended a Worth town hall meeting last September in which they were informed about the program and the dispensary. The majority of the residents who attended that meeting were receptive to the program.

Weisman and Werner both attended the meeting. The Worth mayor said gaining the support and confidence of residents was her main concern when the proposal for the dispensary was first presented the previous year.

But since the Worth dispensary began operating, the number of people applying for medicinal marijuana was not reaching the goals the owners had hoped. She addressed those concerns during a Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon in April.

“The original idea was that 100,000 patients would have signed up by now, but so far the total is 5,000,” said Werner about the pilot program goals. “The owners of the (Worth) dispensary asked if I could help them and I told them I would. I put in a couple of calls to the governor’s office and talked to a couple of officials. Right now we are very happy where we are at.”

Weisman was not as concerned. Despite some illnesses that are not recognized, like people suffering from severe migraine headaches, he believes there is reason for optimism.

“They were (the dispensaries) all doing OK,” said Weisman. “People have to become comfortable with it and that takes time. But with the extension, this tells people that the pilot program is being taken seriously. It is our belief that more doctors will come on board with the extension of the pilot program.”

Figures provided after April indicated that 36 dispensaries had 6,200 patients who qualified to purchase and use medical marijuana. With the addition of PTSD, some ailments and diseases that Illinois law recognizes for patients who qualify for medical marijuana use with a doctor’s signature are cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. The drug still remains illegal under federal law.

With the pilot program being expanded two more years, Weisman believes more patients will take part.

“Absolutely,” said Weisman. “The extension will add more patients. Adding PTSD will provide more relief for patients and encourage more people to come for treatments.”

Werner believes the program will expand because it will provide more time for educating the public.

“Right now, we are pleased,” the mayor said. “Hopefully, the governor will add more illnesses to be treated.”