The deal is on.
The voted four to two, with one abstention, Monday in favor of a contract with Chase Bank for the purchase of city-owned property at 7501 Cass Ave. for $1.95 million.
Weeks of debate over the and whether a bank was a good fit with the lot continued up until the vote.
Alderman Tina Beilke said several of her ward’s residents told her they didn’t think Darien needed another bank. Others expressed concern that a second branch in the city could hurt some of the smaller local banks that have long called Darien home.
With neighboring towns such as Burr Ridge and Willowbrook drawing shoppers and diners, Beilke said she feared Darien would suffer a long-term financial loss by selling to Chase.
“This is one of the most valuable pieces of land we have left,” she said. “I would like to see a business that could increase the entire tax base and not just the property tax base.”
Chase will pay roughly $25,000 annually in property tax, about 70 percent of which will funnel into Darien’s schools, City Administrator Bryon Vana said at last Wednesday’s City Council . Unlike retail establishments or restaurants, banks don’t generate sales tax revenue.
Alderman Joerg Seifert said he thought the city had failed to adequately market as a whole the three properties it owns in the downtown business district along Cass between 75th Street and Plainfield Road.
He said he continued to have questions about the value of the remaining properties if they’re sold separately from 7501 Cass, as well as if they're cut by a drive that goes from Chase’s lot to Plainfield.
City officials have said that a bank has long been part of the plan for the property and that several developers included a bank — and in one instance Chase specifically — in their 2009 proposals. The reasoning now is that Chase will serve as an anchor that will draw other businesses to the remaining lots.
Seifert, however, said he had misgivings about that thought process.
“This approach by selling this parcel to Chase without really researching the implication on the other parcels seems a bit of a Field of Dreams approach: We’re going to build Chase and everybody else is going to come,” Seifert said.
Alderman Joe Marchese said that he believed Chase would in fact draw other businesses to the downtown district.
His vision for Darien’s downtown has evolved during his 14 years on the City Council, he said, the past decade of which has involved discussion of the business district.
“This is not where I would have been 10 years ago,” he said. “Now I think (a bank) will serve the citizens well, and I think it will serve the city well in terms of future development of this property.”
Alderman John Poteraske said the deal was a matter of practicality.
“I agree it was never my first choice either,” he said. “But the reality is the reality is the reality. It’s just one of those situations where we’re going to be significantly better off with a bank, and the upgrading of the other properties by association with this property I think will be positive.”
Halil Avci, Sylvia McIvor, Marchese and Poteraske voted in favor of the contract. Beilke and Seifert voted against it.
Alderman Ted Schauer said after the meeting that he abstained from the vote because he works as a loan officer with Chase.
“Legally I could vote because I don’t own more than 5 percent in Chase stock,” he said. “But I thought it was in the best interest to step back.”
Chase now has 210 days to tie up loose ends regarding the former Shell gas station property, including environmental cleanup efforts, before it must close on the sale.