The official start to constructing the new 8000 North retail and residential building and parking garage in the heart of downtown Skokie was a day village leaders said they had been waiting on for a long time.
More than 200 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday at the northwest corner of Oakton Street and Lincoln Avenue.
“For five years, we have been planning for this project,” Skokie mayor George Van Dusen said. “The village board patiently waited for the right developer to come along and to give us an architecturally beautiful signature project.”
For years the site has sat unused. Even while other major developments in the village were announced, a new Walmart and Marianos and Target among them, the property remained undeveloped.
The site was home to the former Desiree restaurant, with its iconic neon signage.
Van Dusen noted that eventually, village officials carried through on an idea of then-Village Manager Al Rigoni’s to enhance development opportunities for the site. Skokie purchased the property, razed the Desiree building and then sought developers.
After hearing proposals from several finalists, the village chose a project calling for construction of a 12-story, mixed-use luxury building with 153 residential units and retail space on the ground floor, as well as a six-story parking garage. The parking plan also includes 73 spaces for public parking.
Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019, officials said.
“This will add significantly to the future of Skokie,” Van Dusen said.
Trustees and representatives from several village departments, the Chamber of Commerce, the Park District, the library, the township, multiple school districts, the nearby science park and more were on hand to signal the start of the construction project.
The project team includes architect Lucien Lagrange Studio, Pamela Self Landscape Architects, general contractor W.E. O’Neil and several other development professionals.
“We put together a team of terrific people that can really work together to make 8000 North a reality,” said Norm Hassinger who led in forming the team.
The mayor championed the new architecture that will be added to downtown Skokie by noting some other “iconic” Chicago buildings designed by Lucien Lagrange Studio — Park Tower, 65 East Goethe, the Waldorf Astoria and the Ritz Carlton.
The architect said the idea behind the design of 8000 North was to “create a home” and “create a place that is very, very important.”
The village first announced the project in September 2017 and then held a series of public meetings. The project went before the Appearance and the Plan commissions before gaining approval from the Village Board.
More recently, the Village Board approved issuing up to $10.2 million in general obligation bonds as part of an agreement for the project.
The bonds will be used to pay for site improvements and building the parking garage next to the new building, officials said.
Under the agreement, Skokie sold the property at 8000 Lincoln for $1.5 million. While the village is paying for the garage, which the developer will first lease, the developer will eventually purchase the garage from the village after 10 to 12 years.
The agreement also allows the developer to use up to more than $5.9 million in tax increment finance funding to help pay for construction costs, which have been estimated at more than $64 million.
Before dignitaries posed for pictures holding shovels, Van Dusen paid tribute to the iconic Desiree restaurant — a fixture in downtown for many years. He remembered how key elected and appointed village officials would regularly gather there for early morning breakfasts and “to solve all of the world’s problems.”
“It was always a place to gather,” Van Dusen said. “If they [former owners] were here today, they would be among our largest cheerleaders. They would say ‘the past is just a prologue. Get on with it.’”