Two businesses looking to replace their existing facilities won approvals from the village council April 27, bringing to a close months of debate on both projects.
For Rod Nunley, his plans to build a new auto repair shop at the corner of Harlem and Franklin were bogged down in a somewhat grand discussion, while the owner of a local McDonald’s saw his application tied up by minutia. Both proposals were subject to review by Forest Park’s plan commission and zoning board before going to the council for a final say.
Plans to rebuild the McDonald’s restaurant just south of Madison on Desplaines Avenue were first unveiled in January. The company intends to acquire the vacant Mobil gas station that fronts on both roadways. The new restaurant will be slightly larger than the existing McDonald’s, but the corporation’s biggest priority is updating what it said was a very outdated facility.
Aesthetic improvements, new signage and a two-lane drive-through window are critical components of the design, according to Rich Neubauer, a manager for the corporation.
Overall, members of the review committees spoke favorably of the redesign, but the project began to languish as debates over color patterns and an electronic sign continued. Some of those issues carried over to the council’s discussion of the project, and commissioners Marty Tellalian and Mike Curry both said they would prefer not to have an electronic sign so close to Madison.
In earlier discussions, McDonald’s had already agreed that the message on its 6-foot tall sign would be displayed in white lights rather than red, and that the sign must remain static for no less than 30 minutes at a time.
“We keep going backwards on some of this stuff, and it makes it a really hard sell to our people,” Neubauer said to council members.
The new sign would do away with a 16-foot display currently at the site.
Neubauer stressed too, that impulse purchases are a critical part of the company’s bottom line, and to capture those customers it needs to be able to grab their attention. He estimated that 70 percent of McDonald’s sales come from motorists drawn in by the promise of a hamburger.
“Signs are so key to our business,” Neubauer said.
Commissioner Mark Hosty, pointing to drawings of the proposed sign and the current one, said that what is there is “tacky” and the new design is much cleaner.
“I don’t see a problem with it,” Hosty said.
Mayor Anthony Calderone met several times with representatives from McDonald’s to review their proposal and the demands being made by the village’s committees. Those meetings were fruitful, said the mayor, and freed up chunks of money in the applicant’s budget that would allow the company to meet other expenses.
Tellalian, however, said he resented that the details of those private meetings weren’t being shared with the entire council. It appears that Forest Park has its formal review process for business developments, said Tellalian, plus a hidden review with the mayor.
“I don’t know if that’s actually short circuiting the process,” Tellalian said. “It puts [the council] in a difficult position.”
Calderone responded that it’s typical for the mayor of any community to take such an active role, and he has had a hand in every project that has come into Forest Park in the last 10 years.
“Mayors get involved with developers,” Calderone said. “Mayors all across America play a crucial role in development in their community.”
Nunley, meanwhile, unveiled plans to build a new Elite Tire facility a year ago. His proposal does not fit with the dense, multi-story ideal described in Forest Park’s comprehensive plan. However, an apparent lack of immediate alternatives that would meet that vision helped persuade the council to approve Nunley’s repair shop.
In Nunley’s case, the council’s unanimous approval is the final word on whether he can rebuild the Elite Tire store he has operated for decades.
McDonald’s, however, must come back to the council for one last vote, though it appears the project will be approved. The fast food giant has already said construction will not begin for another year, while the franchisee pulls together enough cash for the project. Originally, the company had hoped to break ground this month.