Kadner: Voters’ bad memory worries O’Halloran
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org March 28, 2013 10:00PM
Orland Park Trustee Brad O'Halloran discusses Ninety 7 Fifty on the Park project during a 2011 meeting. | File photo
Updated: May 1, 2013 2:21PM
Voters sometimes have what my mother used to call “all-timers.”
Sometimes they remember. Sometimes they forget.
And sometimes their memories are simply bad.
Brad O’Halloran, a trustee in Orland Park, is worried that voters in the April 9 village election won’t recall that he cast the lone dissenting vote against a controversial apartment complex on 143rd Street near LaGrange Road.
I think his concern is valid because I forgot that myself.
“There’s campaign literature being distributed in Orland that lumps me in with the trustees who supported the entire project, and it’s simply not true,” O’Halloran said. “And I’m worried the other voters may have memories as bad as yours.”
O’Halloran wrote an open letter to the SouthtownStar in 2011, criticizing the village’s plan to front $62 million for the upscale apartment complex.
He wrote that the project’s debt “is greater than the debt of the new police station, the Sportsplex (fitness center), the new library, the new (143rd Street) train station, the public works facility and the old police station renovation — combined. Now that’s a big deal.”
O’Halloran’s statement was actually a big deal at the time because no member of the village board had publicly opposed the plan.
I wrote several columns on the topic, urging village trustees to ask tough questions of the developer at public meetings.
Several trustees told me they had asked questions and expressed some misgivings behind the scenes, but that all of their concerns had been addressed.
Well, that’s not the way democracy is supposed to work. The public ought to hear elected officials ask questions, listen to the answers and come away from a meeting with a better understanding of their government.
The Ninety 7 Fifty on the Park project, as it is officially known, is a 295-unit luxury apartment building that has become the keystone of Orland Park’s attempt to create a downtown business district surrounding the 143rd Street Metra station.
It required the condemnation through eminent domain of a busy strip mall that included Randy’s Market, Orland Park Bakery, Lang Lee’s restaurant and several other shops.
But the most controversial part of the redevelopment project is the financing package — with the village obtaining a line of credit from a bank, selling bonds, renewing the line of credit and selling more bonds, all to cover about $62 million of the projected $63 million cost. The developer was required to put up only token front money.
When the project came up for a vote, O’Halloran voted “no” on the complicated financing package saying, “It’s too much debt.” But he approved the apartment building adjacent to the Metra station and said, “I hope it’s a success.”
O’Halloran on Thursday emphasized that his seemingly contradictory votes to build the project but oppose its financing haven’t changed much.
“I still think the concept of the new downtown is a good one,” he said. “I just didn’t believe at the time that the village had to assume so much debt.”
O’Halloran acknowledges that in 2011, when the vote was taken, the economy was worse, and developers were having a difficult time finding financing for large-scale projects.
“That situation has changed, and I am now trying to convince the board to sell some of that debt to private banks,” O’Halloran said. “The apartment complex is apparently doing very well in getting people to sign leases, even though the first phase isn’t open yet.
“So with people showing interest in the building, with money becoming more available, I think Orland Park should be able to get out from under some of the debt we assumed. I’m thinking we could sell 50 percent of it initially and then, as the project continues to develop, sell 100 percent.”
I still believe O’Halloran should have expressed his concerns about the financing plan sooner, when they may have actually influenced fellow trustees.
By the time he came out with his statement in opposition, the other board members had committed to supporting the project, adamantly defending it despite public criticism.
“I thought I could work behind the scenes to convince my colleagues on the board and sway some opinions,” O’Halloran said. “When I realized that wasn’t working, I decided to make my concerns public. I felt that was my duty as an elected official.”
Mayor Dan McLaughlin at the time called O’Halloran’s concerns “disingenuous,” expressed “disappointment” and said O’Halloran had never called him to talk about his misgivings.
Despite their disagreement at the time, O’Halloran is running for re-election as part of McLaughlin’s First Orland Party with fellow trustees Kathleen Fenton and James Dodge.
Three trustee seats are up for election, and the only candidate running against the incumbents is John Fotopoulos, an Orland Park attorney who has criticized the Ninety 7 Fifty building.
O’Halloran in November became chairman of the Metra board and has vowed to use his position to improve commuter transportation to the southwest suburbs.
“As you know and have written, this area has been underserved by Metra for quite some time,” he told me.
With service at the 143rd Street station being key to the success of the apartment building and the overall redevelopment, it would make sense to re-elect him to the village board.
No matter how people once felt about the apartment building, everyone living in Orland Park ought to be rooting for its ultimate success.