A snapshot of the market values of a handful of properties in the Madison Street business district over the last 18 years indicates that, despite the poor economy, some of those buildings have seen little, if any, depreciation in value, suggesting that Forest Park’s commercial hub has weathered the economic storm fairly well thus far.

The Forest Park Review selected four buildings, covering a range of characteristics, and performed a brief analysis of their market values from 1993 until 2011, based on figures provided by Oak Park Assessor Ali ElSaffar. Most experienced appreciation in value each assessment year – conducted every three years in Cook County – though the rates varied. 

The buildings are at 7416 Madison St. (Former site of Boulevard Fine Art; Modest skate shop is moving in); 7300 Madison St. (Formerly Circle Theatre; the site is vacant, but apartments exist upstairs); 7440 Madison St. (Trage Bros. was in business there until folding in 2009; it is now vacant); and 7443 Madison St. (Schauer Hardware and Hallmark share this building; the Schauer family owns it).

Overall, the four properties experienced their most significant value increases between 1999 and 2005.

During this time, the local business community formed Main Street Redevelopment Corporation, and with the aid of grants and new policies from village hall gave the once drab street a major facelift. (Mayor Anthony Calderone had just been elected in 1999 and is generally considered a “pro-business” mayor. The Mayor’s Press Office did not return phone calls or an email for comment on this story.) Furthermore, the real estate market was booming, which also helped boost property values.

The old site of the Circle Theatre, 7300 Madison St.
NICK MORONI/Staff


Boulevard Fine Art was at 7416 Madison St. until last month. Modest Skate Shop will be moving in soon.
NICK MORONI/Staff


The Schauer and Hallmark building, 7449 Madison St.
NICK MORONI/Staff


The former home of Trage Bros. Appliances, 7440 Madison St.
File 2009/Staff

From 1999-2002, all of the buildings jumped in value. Circle’s former location went up by 16 percent, the former Trage store spiked 28 percent, 7416 Madison St. soared 191 percent, and the Schauer/Hallmark building increased by 41 percent. (It is not entirely clear why 7416 Madison St., the former home of Boulevard, shot up so high during that time; this was before David Manola, Boulevard’s owner, bought the building in 2005.)

Between 2002 and 2005, some leveling off occurred: Only the Circle site and the Schauer/Hallmark building saw significant increases in value, rising by 60 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Despite the poor economy, three of the four buildings could see value appreciations when the 2011 assessments are issued by the county.

Based on the county’s estimate of the 2011 property assessments – these are not official figures yet – ElSaffar was able to furnish the Review with the preliminary fair market values for the four properties. The old Circle site, which is vacant but also has apartments, could increase by 47 percent, to $1.8 million; the shuttered Trage shop may jump by 23 percent, to $326,230; and the Schauer/Hallmark building could rise by 37 percent to $926,220. These estimates could change following successful appeals.

“The appeals process [can] make a huge difference,” ElSaffar said.

The only building that preliminary figures indicate might see depreciation is 7416 Madison St., where Boulevard Fine Art was located. According to the figures provided by ElSaffar, the building could see a 27-percent decrease in value from 2008. The figures predict it will be worth $370,010, two-thirds the value of the $625,000 David Manola bought it for in 2005.

“Who knows what those [figures] mean,” said Manola, in reference to the county’s estimation of his property. “The bottom line is when I go to sell it, that’s when it’s important.”

Manola said he has no immediate plans to part with the building, which, he added, has been profitable for him. He rents space for two upstairs apartments and, now, to two businesses at street level.

Don Offermann rents commercial space on Madison Street, too, and was an integral part of the street’s economic renaissance beginning in the late ’90s. Based on his experience, he said a weak economy doesn’t always mean weaker property values.

“You would think that if the economy has fallen off, that buildings that depend upon a strong economy would also fall off in value,” Offermann said. “That’s not always the case.”

“I don’t know that there’s an absolute correlation. The assessors – there’s always been mysteries as to how that works,” he said in reference to the county’s calculation of the fair market value of properties.

Assessing the value of commercial properties can also be trickier than doing so for residences, ElSaffar said. This might be why comparative values can result in some head scratching. ElSaffar pointed out that it’s easier to assess homes because there are more of them, as well as similar characteristics off which to base assessments.

“In the realm of commercial buildings, there are fewer, so there are fewer sales, and value is based on looking at sales,” ElSaffar noted. “You’re trying to reflect the market, but it’s easier to reflect the market when there are a lot of sales.”

Offermann considers the entire process guesswork. “The only true value of a building is what someone is willing to pay you for. … The rest is speculation,” he said. “It’s totally a meaningless number until you can show a transaction can occur.”

Over the last 12 years, plenty of those transactions have occurred. There are few vacancies on Madison Street, and the trend has been if one business leaves, there is usually another that quickly takes its place. Consider two recent examples: Modest skate shop, which is moving into Boulevard Fine Art; or Yearbook, a home accessories, furniture, and design store, which will soon open where Chix with Stix was located, 7316 Madison St.

“Has the overall economy affected Madison Street? Of course it has, but we have not been as affected as some of our suburban counterparts,” said Dave King, a Forest Parker and owner of the Oak Park-based commercial real estate company David King & Associates. “We have the density and the income versus Oswego or Yorkville that do not have the density or the income. … Developers built retail spaces and offices in those places in the belief that people were coming. Well, guess what? They didn’t come.”

King is a major player in local commercial real estate and has brokered deals to put plenty of businesses up and down Madison Street. He was also a key member of Main Street Redevelopment.

“It remains a strong area. … The vacancies and the challenges we have faced and are facing are not due to the street or Forest Park. … The overall challenges are due to the economy,” King said. “For instance, Trage brothers did not go out of business due to Trage brothers [the store]; they went out of business because they became involved in real estate development … and that soured.”

“Forest Park has significantly less vacant storefronts than many of the villages I’ve seen in my travels throughout the Chicago metropolitan area,” Laurie Kokenes, director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email. “With new businesses continuing to open, I think we’re doing better than most.”

“I don’t know that the vacancies are even higher now than they were during the robust days on the street,” Offermann said. “There are always new shops coming in.”

There are only a handful of spaces that are currently vacant on Madison Street and the old Circle site and the former Trage Bros. store are two. 

Despite the poor economy, and the mysterious assessment process, the pulse of Forest Park’s commercial hub is still beating and it appears to have plenty of lifeblood.

“We are holding our own on Madison Street,” King said.