River Forest seeks to have Fresh Thyme open again in 2016

Though the site has been largely dormant since a February wall collapse, River Forest officials are optimistic Fresh Thyme Farmers Market can open before the year is over.

During a July 12 update on the village's legal fight to get the structure repaired, village officials and Mid America representatives told the village board the goal is still to have the grocery store open in the space at 7501 North Ave. Village Administrator Eric Palm said the legal action was chosen due to a "lack of activity" at the construction site.

During the afternoon of Feb. 19, the masonry veneer of the eastern wall of the building collapsed, which dropped hundreds of bricks onto the sidewalk and Monroe Avenue. Debris remained on the ground for several days, and the village closed Monroe Avenue and one lane of North Avenue while an investigation was launched. Work on the site was immediately halted.

Mid America, which owns the building, said Fresh Thyme initially wanted to repair the wall itself, which led to the delay.

"I think they felt they were in control of it, and it just became a bigger project than they expected," said Michelle Panovich of Mid America. "We didn't hear back from them until late March or early April. We handle this type of work all the time. We do ground-up construction."

According to Panovich, the current investigation showed the foundations look intact and will not need to be replaced. Mid America is now waiting for the results of soil testing before beginning repair work, Panovich said.

"It's been very painful for us financially," Panovich said. "We were anticipating this tenant moving in and operating. They were supposed to pay rent months ago. It's an unfortunate set of circumstances."

When asked if Mid America had thoughts of demolishing the entire structure and rebuilding, Panovich said it was a consideration.

"We looked at the tradeoff of time and value," Panovich said. "There's a mortgage on the property. It's not simple to call your lender and say we're taking the building down. This is the right thing to do, and the tenant really wants to be here."

According to Palm, the village is seeking drawings for repairs to the site by Aug. 2, and asking that all permits for those repairs be requested by Aug. 16. Construction is due to be completed by Dec. 31, with a status hearing in court expected to take place Aug. 17, Palm said.

Panovich said she remains optimistic that repairs and buildout of the store can still occur in a timely matter.

"I think Fresh Thyme is being very conservative," Panovich said. "We're hopeful they can cut down on that time. We hope they can work alongside us so they can come in and get started."

The building had been the site of a former Dominick's grocery store, but has been vacant since Dominick's closed all of its Chicago-area locations in late 2013. Panovich said Mid America owned eight properties occupied by Dominick's stores at that time.

"I'm glad to see it seems we have a roadmap to getting it finished," Village President Cathy Adduci said. "I'm just baffled [it may be] almost a year [to repair]. It seems to me for a for-profit organization, time is money. I would suspect your number one goal is to get it up and running."

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