Chicago’s Infill Expert
Sy Taxman has been the leader in in-town development for nearly 30 years.
Misty Reagin

Sy Taxman, founder and CEO of Chicago-based The Taxman Corporation, got into the development business by pure accident. He started his career in 1962 as a lawyer in Chicago. Then, in 1970, he helped form a local real estate company where he worked for 5 years. In 1975, he decided to go out on his own and, since then, his company has developed and/or redeveloped more than 2 million square feet of neighborhood and community retail. And, Taxman is still going strong with several developments currently in the works.

Talbot’s is one of the tenants at the second phase of River Forest Town Center, in River Forest, Illinois. This phase, which opened in October 2002, totals about 57,000 square feet.
Within the last 5 years, the company has branched out from developing just retail projects, and has begun developing multifamily and mixed-use projects as well. “We do a lot of residential now, but it is all triggered by the commercial aspects of the projects that we are involved with,” Taxman explains.

The company’s first foray into the multifamily market began about 9 years ago while developing phase I of River Forest Town Center, a 150,000-square-foot urban lifestyle center located at the southwest corner of Lake Street and Harlem Avenue in River Forest, Illinois. The Taxman Corporation built the first phase of the center (90,000 square feet), which opened in 1994 and is anchored by Whole Foods Market, next to an existing 48-unit condominium building on Lake Street.

Not long after the River Forest Town Center opened, the Village of River Forest approached Taxman about expanding the retail center. However, the condominium building sat in the way. Tim Hague, president of The Taxman Corporation, suggested demolishing the existing building and relocating existing residents into a new 64-unit condominium building that the company would build two blocks away.

“After 3 years of negotiating with every homeowner in the building, we relocated 48 residents to the new building called William Place Condominiums,” Sy Taxman says. “It opened up the opportunity to significantly expand the retail.” As a result, the company was able to make room for the second phase of River Forest Town Center (totaling 57,000 square feet), which opened in October 2002 with Linens ‘n Things as its anchor. Other tenants that have leased space in phase II of River Forest Town Center are Ann Taylor Loft, Chico’s, Children’s Place, Harry & David, Panera Bread and Talbots. According to Tim Hague, the center will be 100 percent leased when Red Wagons Toy Store — a dot-com retailer that is growing to include a brick and mortar store — opens this fall.

During the time that it was developing the first phase of River Forest Town Center and William Place Condominiums, The Taxman Corporation also developed The Shops of Downtown Oak Park, an approximately 50,000-square-foot retail center located on the southeast corner of Lake Street and Harlem Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois, directly across the street from River Forest Town Center. The center opened in 1997 with tenants including Old Navy, The Gap, Pier 1 Imports and T.G.I. Friday’s. The combined retail development by The Taxman Corporation at this intersection — that most people thought was abandoned — now totals about 200,000 square feet.

Euclid Commons, a mixed-use development, is currently under development by The Taxman Corporation.
More recently, The Taxman Corporation completed a 34-unit condominium building, called The Mews, located 1 mile east of The Shops of Downtown Oak Park on the northeast corner of Lake Street and Euclid Avenue. In addition, it is currently developing Euclid Terraces — a 34-unit upscale townhouse project — on the southeast corner of Lake and Euclid. The company also relocated a longtime neighborhood hot dog stand to build Euclid Commons, a mixed-use development currently under construction featuring three levels of residential units located above 8,000 square feet of retail space at grade level. The company already has one fully executed lease and several signed letters of intent, and Stacy Taxman, project manager for the company, expects the retail space to be delivered to tenants late in the second quarter of 2004. These three projects are all part of a joint venture with Tim Anderson, president of Northfield, Illinois-based Focus Development Corp.

In Vernon Hills, Illinois, The Taxman Corporation is currently in the process of designing Vernon Hills Town Center, a mixed-use development centered around a man-made lake. The center will be located on the northwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Old Half Day Road. “This is going to be a ‘gateway’ development for the town,” Sy Taxman says. “The concept here is to bring the retail to the front of the development in a series of buildings that will be architecturally significant. It will afford the retailer immediate identification, and we are going to try to do the same concept everywhere we can in suburbia.”

Taxman plans to develop about 70,000 square feet of retail and 200 multifamily units at the Vernon Hills Town Center project. “It should total about 30 acres when it is all said and done,” he notes.

The Taxman Corporation is also working on forming a public/private partnership with the Village of Vernon Hills to integrate Vernon Hills Town Center with land owned by the College of Lake County. The college is building a campus near the center, and Taxman hopes to mix new and unique retail, restaurants and townhouses to create a destination area for the campus all on one parcel.

Also in Vernon Hills, The Taxman Corporation is developing Aspen Pointe, a mixed-use project that will feature 300 condominium units and about 100,000 square feet of retail. The company purchased the land last March — totaling about 27 acres — located at Route 60 and Aspen Drive. The company is currently in the entitlement process, but it already has signed commitments from Walgreens and numerous other retailers. The company formed a joint venture with John Thomas, president of Niles, Illinois-based Newport Builders to develop both Vernon Hills Town Center and Aspen Pointe.

Sy Taxman talks about his many projects currently under development.
In Skokie, Illinois, Taxman paired with Scott Gendell of Terraco Inc. to purchase the Old Orchard Theater and a car wash on Skokie Boulevard in October 2002. They demolished the theater to develop Siena at Old Orchard — a mixed-use project featuring 110 condominiums overlooking an existing par three golf course and a retail component situated at the front of the property. The retail will consist of a bank, a Portillo’s restaurant — a recently completed deal by Margie Georgopulous, vice president and one of the principals with The Taxman Corporation — and another freestanding building. “We are bringing in Tuscan-style architecture, and we are going to make it one of the prettiest sites on the North Shore,” Sy Taxman says. “The retail should be completed 1 year from now, and the condominiums should be completed shortly thereafter.”

Also in Skokie, The Taxman Corporation has undertaken the restoration of the Dempster Street Station at the Skokie Swift Terminal. The train station, which was designed by the world famous railroad architect Arthur Gerber in 1926, had reached a point of severe disrepair. Sy Taxman and Gendell, in another joint venture, acquired the rights to the building about 1 year ago. However, because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the acquisition came with the stipulation that the building not be demolished but rather that it be moved 130 feet (to allow for the redesign of the entrance and parking lots at the Skokie Swift Terminal) and restored back to its original 1926 design.

However, moving the building was no easy task. “It took us 5 months to move the building,” Sy Taxman says. “We would move it and cracks would occur. The last thing we needed on our resume would be credit for demolishing a building on the National Register of Historic Places.”

So, after careful relocation of the 4,000-square-foot building onto a new foundation and plenty of restoration work, The Taxman Corporation is about 80 percent finished with the project. Sy Taxman expects to deliver about half of the building to Starbucks. He says that a bank will probably occupy the other half of the building. “We are going to turn a terrible eyesore into something that the village can be proud of and that we can be proud of.” Georgopulous is coordinating the development on behalf of The Taxman Corporation for both Skokie projects.

The Taxman Corporation has also undertaken a historic restoration at 1055 West Bryn Mawr in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. This project is part of a joint venture with Joe Antunovich, founder and president with the Chicago-based architectural firm, Antunovich Associates. While the 16,000-square-foot building is not a historic landmark in and of itself, it is located in a historic district. According to Stacy Taxman, the company plans to begin the restoration in January 2004 to bring this building back to its 1935 design and condition using like materials, such as variations of terra cotta, to create a multi-tenanted retail center. “The community views this project as being an anchor for the neighborhood,” she says.

The Taxman Corporation also has a retail project in Arlington Heights, Illinois, called South Arlington Heights Commons. The company won the right to redevelop the northeast corner of Golf Road and Arlington Heights Road through an RFP issued by the village. Hague is currently negotiating with Target to anchor the project.

Taxman is hoping that this development will also act as a gateway to the Village of Arlington Heights. The company plans to develop an additional 70,000 square feet of retail shops at the center.

While Taxman’s entrance into the development industry may have been an accident, it seems to have paid off. Sy Taxman has been able to create a successful development company by identifying opportunities and then acting on them when others would not. At the same time, he has managed to develop projects that are meaningful to their respective communities.

©2003 France Publications, Inc. Duplication or reproduction of this article not permitted without authorization from France Publications, Inc. For information on reprints of this article contact Barbara Sherer at (630) 554-6054.

 



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