By Bob Uphues
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redevelop a significant section of Riverside's downtown has surfaced with an announcement by PNC Bank that it will be moving out of its branch at 40 E. Burlington St. on May 18.
The bank sent a letter to its customers in late February announcing the closure, which was confirmed to the Landmark by a company spokeswoman last week. Accounts at the Riverside branch are being shifted to the PNC branch on 31st Street in LaGrange Park, said Diane Zappas, director of corporate communications for PNC Bank.
Zappas said when the bank closes a branch, it typically puts the property on the market if it's owned by the company. Cook County property records indicate that MidAmerica Federal Savings and Loan Association acquired the property in 1998. National City Bank acquired MidAmerica Bank in 2007, and PNC took over National City two years later.
The property at 40 E. Burlington St. has yet to be listed for sale. Two properties immediately west of PNC Bank are vacant, including the former Coveny Lane building at 30 E. Burlington St. and the former Riverside Pain Clinic building at 28 E. Burlington St.
Taken together, the three commercial properties comprise roughly 40,000 square feet in downtown Riverside, with about 230 feet of street frontage along East Burlington Street.
If assembled, the parcel would be larger in terms of land area than the Village Center property, though that property has a longer street frontage, by about 40 feet, on East Burlington Street.
Village President Ben Sells said the opportunity to develop a key part of downtown Riverside "would be wonderful to see." Sells said a development that would allow older Riverside residents looking to downsize but stay in town would conform to the village's long-term goals for economic development.
"The reality is that the life blood of the village is new families," Sells said. "More opportunities for older residents to move into condos or townhouses and stay in the town they love opens housing stock for new families coming in.
"I look at it as a great opportunity. It just has to be done right."
While no one has come forward with any development proposal, a key figure in any deal to redevelop the land would be Riverside businessman Patrick Leone, who owns 30 E. Quincy St. as well as the commercial units on the ground floor of the Village Center. He is a partner in La Barra Ristorante, which anchors the Village Center's corner commercial space at 2 E. Burlington St.
Leone in 2013 also entered into an easement agreement with PNC Bank to allow use of a driveway on the east side of his property at 30 E. Burlington St. The easement runs with the land, but it can be amended if both parties agree to a change.
The former pain clinic property at 28 E. Burlington St. is not being actively marketed for sale, but prior to the death of its owner Dr. Hatem Galal in January, it was. It also appears as if there had been a deal on the table prior to Galal's death, according to property records, although it's not clear who the prospective buyer was.
Carolyn Michals, the real estate broker for 28 E. Burlington St., filed a lien against the property on Jan. 3 to collect the commission she stated she was due for selling the property for $337,500.
But the sale appears to be held up related to a dispute between Galal's estate and one of its neighbors. A woman named Lisa Morrow on Jan. 18 filed a petition for quiet title for the property in Cook County Circuit Court. Galal also is listed as a plaintiff.
A residential neighbor of the property at 28 E. Burlington St., Jonathan Sion, is listed as the defendant.
Morrow's attorney declined to comment on the petition, and attempts to reach Sion were unsuccessful. Michals did not respond to a phone message left by the Landmark. Leone declined to answer a number of questions emailed to him by the Landmark regarding the East Burlington Street properties.
A memorandum filed in 1991 by Sion with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds states Galal had purchased a lot immediately behind Sion's home on Longcommon Road in 1990.
According to the memorandum, Galal had agreed to sell Sion a portion of that property. However, the property was never conveyed to Sion, despite the agreement.
The last time downtown Riverside attracted a large-scale redevelopment in its downtown was when the Village Center was built. Completed in 2008, the Village Center became a flashpoint between advocates of transit-oriented development and opponents, who decried the density and scale of the project.
"In the past, transit-oriented development was given a bad name in our town, but the concept of taking advantage of our access to the rail line is central to the whole reason Riverside was developed," Sells said.