May 20--A relic of the Cold War era on busy LaGrange Road in Orland Park could soon be home to restaurants and retail uses, according to a proposal being considered by village officials.
A Mokena commercial real estate developer, Location Finders International, is moving ahead with plans to develop a 14-acre tract on the west side of LaGrange immediately south of 156th Street.
Part of the site had been used as a Nike missile launching facility when the United States feared a possible attack by Russian bombers raining down atomic weapons on major metropolitan areas.
It was later used as a vehicle maintenance facility by the Army Reserve, but has sat unused for many years.
Chuy's, a Tex-Mex food chain, and Miller's Ale House have been identified as two restaurants committed to the project. A third restaurant has also signed on, but LFI isn't yet identifying it, according to Dan Rose, director of retail development for Location Finders.
Toward the rear of the property, the company plans a 40,000-square-foot building and is in talks with a number of retailers, Rose said.
At its May 9 meeting, the village's Plan Commission recommended preliminary site plan approval for the development, and the Village Board could take up the matter at its June 5 meeting.
It took several years for Location Finders to get to this point and assembling the property for development. It owned about five acres of the site, but worked with the Army Reserve, which owned the rest, to acquire the balance of the property. Rose said the process took about six years.
"This was definitely a learning process for us. It wasn't simple," he said.
Location Finders couldn't purchase the site, which is unincorporated and would be annexed to Orland Park, but agreed to an exchange with the military, under which the company committed to an extensive project replacing water and sewer lines at Fort Sheridan in the north suburbs, now an Army Reserve training facility.
Under the Real Property Exchange program, the Army contracts with a private developer or other exchange partner who can either provide an alternate facility or work on an existing facility.
Only when Location Finders' project at Fort Sheridan was wrapped up would the Army Reserve turn over the Orland Park land, which backs up to Lake View Plaza and is bordered on the west by the village's public works complex.
Terror from the skies
During the Cold War with the then Soviet Union, sites equipped with surface-to-air Nike missiles were built around major metropolitan areas, including Chicago. The missiles were viewed as a last line of defense to knock out high-altitude bomber jets in an era when people were building bomb shelters in their back yards, and school children were taught to duck and cover under their desks.
Along with Orland Park, other Nike launch sites in the area were in Alsip and in Homewood, which was near what is now a park area.
If you want to see a Nike missile up close, one stands outside the Oak Forest Park District's administration building, 15601 S. Central Ave.
Missiles were stored below ground at the launch sites, and would be hoisted on elevators to above-ground launch platforms.
The missiles were fired and guided to their target by a separate launch control center.
The control center for Orland's launch site was south of 153rd, west of the current Centennial Park and near the former Andrew Corp. headquarters. Andrew had, after the military closed the control center, used it for storage.
The land it was on was redeveloped as Sheffield Square, a town home subdivision.
A reinforced concrete underground bunker that was used at the missile site had been purchased in 1975 for $1 by Orland Park to use as a disaster command center, according to a 1991 Tribune article.
In early 2001, Orland Park completed construction on a public works vehicle and road salt storage building that was built on part of the missile site. The 10-inch-thick reinforced concrete roof of one of three missile storage bunkers serves as the floor of the salt storage area.
Today, a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire surrounds the property, with a handful of buildings that would be demolished to make way for the redevelopment. Village officials have long considered the property an eyesore and had been eager to see something happen with the site.
"The Village has been working with the federal government for many years on the possibility of a private land swap to redevelop this property," Joe La Margo, Orland Park's interim village manager, said. "We are very pleased to see this process coming to an end, and resulting in a very high quality development by LFI, in the heart of our commercial district."
Over the last few years, Army Reserve officials had twice sought proposals from companies interested in acquiring it before signing the agreement with Location Finders.
Location Finders is no stranger to Orland Park, having developed a strip center on the east side of LaGrange near Target that currently has tenants, such as a Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Rose said his company has been working with Orland Park officials for more than a year on the current project.
Chuy's, based in Austin, Texas, has 83 locations in 16 states. The chain doesn't yet have a presence in Illinois but is set to open in Warrenville, according to its website.
Miller's Ale House, a casual sports bar and restaurant chain, has a restaurant locally in Chicago Ridge.
Location Finders was established in 1973, and Rose said that this new development has been the company's "most challenging from the amount of hurdles we had to overcome," describing it as "quite a feat."
"Development is a puzzle, and this was a bit more challenging of a puzzle to put together," he said.
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