EP mayor says new Plaza deal is a 'grand slam'

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The wrecking ball is finally ready to swing at the Plaza.


After several failed attempts, plans to raze and rebuild the iconic Evergreen Park mall are in motion after the village trustees Monday approved a development agreement for the shopping center.


“It’s finally right at our fingertips,” Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton said. “We’re a huge step closer to getting the Plaza done. It will be a grand slam, not a home run.”


Despite an ongoing series of setbacks, the mayor expressed confidence that a deal eventually would be struck to redevelop the Plaza, which has largely been vacant since 2013.


“Sometimes you got to put on the full court press,” Sexton said. “All the stars aligned on this.”


Trustees unanimously approved a 45-day memo of understanding with Evergreen Park Developers, a partnership between DeBartolo Development and Lormax Stern Development Co. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which has a contract to purchase the mall.


“We think now it’s finally time,” said Daniel Stern, owner of Lormax Stern, a firm with a history of redeveloping failed shopping malls. “We think this project is more exciting than any of the others (we’ve done).”


Plans call for the Plaza, located at 95th Street and Western Avenue, to be razed, possibly as soon as this summer, Stern said. The new mall—Evergreen Park Marketplace—could open within 18 months, Sexton said.


Demolition costs are estimated at $10 million.


Planet Fitness and Applebee’s will remain at the new mall, Stern said. Carson’s has expressed an interest in locating in the new mall, he said.


The new outdoor mall will feature between 30 and 40 stores, the majority of them national retailers, Stern said.


He said interest in the mall is already very high.


“People want to come into your village,” said Stern, adding that a gourmet grocery store such as Whole Foods could be in the mix. “There’s more tenants than there is space.”


Stern added that the region’s demographic, the amount of traffic and the lack of major retailers in area will make the mall a success. He said the mall would draw most of its customers from a three-mile radius, which would include the Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn and Chicago’s Beverly, Morgan Park, Mt. Greenwood and Wrightwood communities.


Monday’s announcement is a significant achievement for Sexton, who’s made the Plaza’s rebirth a primary goal.


At his December State of the Village address, Sexton hinted at plans to redevelop the mall. But days later, reality hit the mayor and the village hard as Crains Chicago business reported that a potential deal with the Tampa-based DeBartelo group collapsed and the foreclosure process has restarted.

That news didn’t deter Sexton, who insisted a deal was still in the works and Crain’s report was inaccurate.

“This isn’t an Evergreen Park thing, it’s a South Side thing,” Sexton said.

He added that the success of Wal-Mart, Meijer, Menard’s and other retailers on Western Avenue coupled with Mariano’s decision to bring a store to Evergreen Park, made the village an appealing location for other major retailers.

Built in 1952, the Plaza was identified as one of the first modern American shopping malls and was a template for others built around the country. It features 1.2 million square feet of retail floor area and at one time had approximately 120 stores and a food court.



– D’oh – Finally a contested election in EP

  • Written by Bob Rakow



There’s a contested election for three seats on the Evergreen Park Village Board—an event that has not occurred in nearly 30 years.


Three incumbent trustees—Mark Marzullo, James McQuillan and Mary Keane—are seeking re-election to the six-member board. Together, the trio has almost four decades of experience on the board and hope to retain their positions on April 7.


Meanwhile, Chris Trzeciak, a lifetime resident of Evergreen Park and the president of Evergreen Park Community High School District 231 board said he is in the race to give voters a choice, he says.

Having a choice is something new for EP voters.

The same month that “The Simpsons” cartoon debuted on the “Tracey Ullman Show” Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight” was a monster hit, the Cubs traded Dennis Eckersley to Oakland for three minor leaguers and Texaco filed for bankruptcy was the last time there was contested Trustee race in EP until this year.

The novelty is being welcomed in some circles.

“I think it’s great to have [contested] elections,” Mayor Jim Sexton said. “It gives us a chance to get the candidates out to talk to the people. They get to go door to door and find out from people what they might have missed. It gets us up and gets us going.

“I go back to the sports angle. You have to practice every day. You can’t just show up for game day.’’

The last contested race in Evergreen Park took place in April 1987 when six candidates ran for three seats on the board.

Sexton, John McGivern and John Murphy easily defeated challengers Jean Kruppiak, Robert Simutis and Elizabeth Angele by two-to-one margins.

Kruppiak, an incumbent, was elected in 1979. She ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Tony Vacco in 1985.

Murphy was later elected Worth Township Supervisor, a position he held until 2013.

Ruth Donahue defeated Harold Wierenga for a two-year term as village clerk.


Walter White is BACK

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Oak Lawn’s Dave Janet, also known as Walter White, is back to winning races after back surgeries in 2013 and 2014.


Walter White has returned.

No, there isn’t a “Breaking Bad II” television show where the cult hero rises from the dead to cook more meth.

This Walter White has a real name of Dave Janet.

Janet is an Oak Lawn native who, as a joke, entered his name as Walter White in the 2013 Tinley Park Stars and Stripes 5K Run and finished second to his North Central College track teammate, Mitch Gilbert in the race.

Janet smiled when Walter White’s name was called during the award ceremony and anyone calling up that race on will see that Walter White finished second with a time of 15 minutes, 41 seconds.

What has happened to Walter White, er, Dave Janet since then is not so funny.

The Brother Rice graduate had back surgery to repair a herniated disc the following December and in June had a laminectomy performed. His senior track season at North Central was wiped out and his summer was spent recovering from the pain after being treated by MetroSouth Medical Center Orthopaedic Surgeon William Payne.

On Oct. 18, Janet returned to running and since his return, he has won four out of five races he entered including Sunday’s 8K Running O’ the Green in Tinley Park. He clocked in at 26.15 to beat out Gilbert, who finished with a 26.43.

After graduating from North Central in Naperville, Janet, 23, is now in the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville dental school program and he has entered races in the southern part of the state. His next race will be the Alton Half Marathon on March 21.

“It’s a good way to get my mind off of dental school,” he said. “Once you are a runner, you do what you love. ‘’

Last summer, Gilbert won the Stars and Stripes event and wore a Brother Rice shirt during that race in his friend’s honor. For Sunday’s race, Gilbert wasn’t expecting to battle his pal.

“I haven’t seen Dave since last summer when we got to hang out,” Gilbert said. “He told me he wasn’t doing this race and out of the blue, I see him here. It was a great surprise and great to see someone who had so many low points come back and to do what he loves.’’

Other area standouts in the race were Chicago Ridge’s  Kristyn Rein (first in the 25-29 age group), Palos Hills’ Dariusz Lisowski (second in the men’s 35-39), Oak Lawn’s Brian Tornga (third in the men’s 25-29), Oak Lawn’s Steven Gelsomid  (third in the men’s 60-64).

By the way, the Walter White persona has not yet died for Janet.

“I still receive mail for the Tinley Park races addressed to ‘Walter White,’ ’’ Janet said. “It’s pretty funny to see that.’’



Oak Lawn tornado in '67 affecting Chicago Ridge today

  • Written by Bob Rakow

JUMP-page-TokarThe aftermath of the destruction from the 1967 tornado that wrecked havoc in Oak Lawn is still being felt in neighboring Chicago Ridge.


As Oak Lawn rebounded from the tornado’s damage, much of the debris was dumped on the Chicago Ridge property that later became the Yellow Truck Terminal.


“Oak Lawn didn’t have any place to put the debris from that tornado,” Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said Tuesday during a state of the village address at Jenny’s Steak House in Worth. “They put a portion of it, well, they put most of it, next to Stony Creek on the south end of theYellow Freight property.”


Tokar’s remarks followed a state of the village given by Worth Mayor Werner. Both speeches were given during a meeting of the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce.


“It’s all well and good for Yellow Freight because they just had to pave it over and pave it over and put concrete and asphalt on top of it, and it’s been fine.” Tokar said. “But now that they’re looking to put a development on it.”


Only a portion of the property—perhaps 15 acres—was used for refuse dumping, but the ground condition is not appropriate for new construction, Tokar said.


“That ground is pretty soft. It’s got windows, it’s got door frames, it’s good wood, it’s got bricks, it’s concrete, it’s got all kinds of stuff,” he said. “Building on that type of property is extremely expensive.”


That section of the property might be better used for a driving range or another outdoor use rather than undergoing the expenses associated with prepping the ground for development, the mayor said.


“I kind of like the idea of a mini Ravinia myself, but I don’t think we’ll get to that,” Tokar said. “At this time I am cautiously optimistic that we will see a development on that property. It would be a great thing for Chicago Ridge. It would be a great thing for the entire area around here—all the surrounding towns. “If we can draw people to our area, I think it benefits all of us.”


That won’t happen, however, until market research and soil borings are completed, which will take several more months, Tokar said.


Ideally, the village would like to turn the vacant truck terminal along with some adjacent property near 103rd Street and the shuttered Aldi near Harlem Avenue and Southwest Highway into a mixed-use development.


Yellow Freight abandoned its truck terminal about five years ago. Since that time, redeveloping the Harlem Avenue terminal has been the village’s top priority.

To that end, the village recently partnered with Structured Development to create the Ridge Creek Joint Venture Partnership.

The village purchased the property from Yellow Roadway Corp. for $14 million. The purchase contract is contingent on the condition of the property, Tokar said.

The village board also approved an ordinance that designates the Yellow Freight property and the adjacent land as a tax increment financing district. The TIF district is bordered by Harlem Avenue, the Tri-State Tollway and Southwest Highway.


A mixed-use development that would feature family entertainment options, such as Dave & Buster’s; a multi-level, heated golf driving range similar to Top Golf in Wood Dale or an indoor skydiving facility similar to iFly in Naperville or Rosemont all are under consideration, Tokar has said.

The development also would feature shops, restaurants and condominiums or townhomes, Tokar said. Hotels, a conference center or a venue for entertainment also are under consideration, he said.


Hickory Hills candidates looking to work together with rest of council

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Two veteran Hickory Hills alderman are touting their experience as the primary reason for voters to return them to office in the April 7 election.

Aldermen John Szeszycki (2nd) and Scott Zimmerman (4th) are the only Hickory Hills officials being challenged in next month’s municipal races.

Mayor Mike Howley, City Clerk D’Lorah Catizone, City Treasurer Dan Schramm and Aldermen Mike McHugh (1st) and Tom McAvoy (3rd) are running unopposed.

Both incumbents point out that Hickory Hills lacks political controversy or polarizing issues that divide the eight-member council. Rather, aldermen work together for the most part on routine issues related to city services or finances, they said.

A look at the two contested races:


BOLD SUBHEAD -- 4th Ward: Zimmerman vs. Kelly


In the 4th Ward, Zimmerman is opposed by Colleen Kelly, who has political experience as a member of the Lyons Township Board.



Elected in 1999, Zimmerman is the senior member of the city council. He has Howley’s endorsement and maintains that his 15 years of experience qualifies him for another four-year term.


“(The city council) is very cohesive,” Zimmerman said. “We’re a good group of people who work well together.”


Kelly, 37, has been a Lyons Township trustee for four years. She said running for alderman is the next logical step in her ongoing community involvement.


“Everyone kind of knew it was coming,” said Kelly, a divorced mother of two.


“Being involved is very big for me. I’ve always been involved in the community,” said Kelly, a Hickory Hills resident since 2001.


Kelly was a member of the Indian Springs School District 109 school board prior to joining the township board. She recently was recognized as an Outstanding Woman Elected Official by Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown.


She added that residents routinely approach her with their “problems and concerns,” which she, in turn, brings to the city’s attention.


Asked why the residents do not approach Zimmerman instead, Kelly said “he was a bit unresponsive.”


Zimmerman chairs the council’s public works committee, but Kelly boasts experience in that area, she said, as chief operator for the West Suburban Water Commission, the agency that delivers water to the city.


Zimmerman denied that he’s not available to residents.


“I get back with people,” he said. “I don’t believe that is a fact.”


He also dismissed Kelly’s allegation that the city does not take advantage of services offered by Lyons Township. “I don’t see the township coming to the city,” he said.


Zimmerman added that unlike Kelly, he has not sought other public offices despite opportunities to do so.


“I’m not moving around. I’m sticking where I’m at,” he said.


He also criticized Kelly for deciding against sending her children to District 109 schools while she served on the school board.


Kelly’s children attend St. Patricia School. She is involved at the parish and attended the school.


Zimmerman, 51, was born in Hickory Hills. He and his wife, Debbie, have two children.


BIL headline -- 2nd Ward: Szeszycki vs. Mancuso


In the 2nd Ward, Szeszycki faces a challenge from political newcomer Joe Mancuso.


In the 2nd Ward, incumbent Szeszycki is a 12-year member of the council and chairman of the finance committee.

His view of serving on the city council is rather straightforward.

“The nuts and bolts are providing city services,” Szeszycki said.

He said his colleagues on the council encouraged him to seek re-election, especially because of his budget expertise.

“Every account we have is in the black,” Szeszycki said, adding that the council has worked diligently to do more with less.

As Gov. Bruce Rauner proposes significant cuts in the funds municipalities receive, budget issues will remain at the forefront, he added.

Szeszycki, 68, has lived in the city for 43 years and worked for many years as a firefighter/paramedic for the Roberts Park Fire Protection District.

He and his wife have five grown children and eight grandchildren.

He takes a philosophical attitude toward the upcoming election: “If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose.”

If he’s defeated, it will be at the hands of Joe Mancuso.

“We live in an incredible community, and I want to do my part by serving the residents of the 2nd Ward.  I want to make this office less about the office and more about people. I want to represent your voice, your views and your concerns for improving our community,” Mancuso said in a press release announcing his candidacy.


Mancuso, 70, has no previous political experience, but hopes to fill that void by bringing new ideas to the council.


“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think I could make a positive impact,” said Mancuso, a 17-year resident of the city.


He’s proposed a city sponsored talent show for teens, a farmer’s market and a citywide garage sale, similar to the one held in Bridgeview. He also has proposed re-evaluate and improve the city’s Emergency Communication system or research a new more comprehensive system.


“I don’t have a record like the other guy so I have to come up with some things,” said Mancuso, who is retired.


Mancuso and his wife, Cheryl, have five grown children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild