A Future for Norwood? Developer Takes Interest

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Nassimi Realty Corp. may win the chance to remake Norwood Plaza. (Photo: ENEWSPF)

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF) — The Village Board held a joint meeting with members of the Economic Development Advisory Group to discuss a potential developer, the Nassimi Realty Corp., for Park Forest’s troubled Norwood Plaza. Chad Firsel, formerly with Baum Realty Group (BRG) and currently Executive Vice President of NAI Hiffman’s Investment Services Group, explained the process BRG and village staff used in recommending Nassimi. Baum Realty Group is brokering the property for the Village of Park Forest.

Firsel explained the approach BRG used to advertise Norwood, different from it’s previous unsuccessful attempt to sell the property. Previously, BRG had circulated the property at Norwood to a smaller group of what Firsel termed highly qualified developers, “We had hoped for a big box store to come to town.  It didn’t happen.  So, in December, with [Director of Planning & Economic Development] Hildie [Kingma] guiding us, we went out to the market. We were on the market for two weeks, we had 11 offers.”

Firsel said BRG was pleased to see the interest, “At that point we took the property off the market.”  BRG then sent out a letter called an RFQ, “Request for Qualifications.”  During this stage, BRG and village staff asked that potential developers to demonstrate that they have a track record in development, and why Norwood Square makes sense for them to acquire.  With the RFQ, some developers dropped out, and eventually the 11 original developers were narrowed down to 3 groups.  At this point, the three remaining development groups were interviewed by a committee comprised of Firsel and Jason Berngard of BRG, along with Village Manager Tom Mick, Finance Director Mary Dankowski, Hildy Kingma, EDAG Chairman Sam Montella, and Sharon Bellino from the Downtown Management office. The committee agreed to recommend Oliver Nassimi,  “He’s a second generation shopping center owner.  His father and uncle started the business out of Brooklyn, New York.  He’s experienced.”  Firsel added Nassimi also has experience in “turnaround assets," and that he also has tenant relationships. The company’s web site lists Oliver Nassimi’s position as In-House Counsel and Acquisitions.

During the meeting, staff members placed a call to Oliver Nassimi. and placed him on speakerphone for the remainder of the meeting.  Firsel specified that they were interested in a developer who would be ready to come in and fix up Norwood, and said Oliver Nassimi not only was “on board, but they saw eye to eye with us as they’ve done this many times before, in similar fashion, with ‘tired’ properties.”  Firsel said there will be development within a short period of time following the closing of the agreement.

Nassimi said that his company has turned around many properties like Norwood Square, “This kind of redevelopment is our bread and butter.  It’s virtually the only thing we do.  Our specialty is to find what we call ‘troubled properties’ and, through a lot of effort, a lot of tender loving care, to turn them around.  We think [Norwood] is a viable turnaround opportunity.”

Nassimi said his firm’s research found very little in the immediate area for local people to shop.  He commented favorably on the outward structure of the buildings at Norwood, the depth of the individual stores, the basic layout of the strip mall, “Everything’s really in place.  It just needs somebody to fix it up.”

“Our plan for the first year would probably be to redo the entire parking lot, redo the entire façade, and, to the maximum extent permitted by code, we’d probably look to put up some nice big signage, to really attract every retailer that looks at the center.”

He concluded, “We’re highly confident that once that work is done, it shouldn’t take all that long for the tenants to come.”

In response to questions, Nassimi estimated that in 2 – 3 years Norwood should be a fully viable shopping center, fully restored on the tax rolls.  “We’ve turned around much more difficult deals than this in the past, and we’re highly confident that we’re not going to let you down on this one either.”

After board members and EDAG had concluded their conversation with Nassimi, President Ostenburg expressed caution, “I’m reluctant to believe that anybody walks on water, unless it’s frozen.”

“What we have in front of us is the confidence of our staff that this is a good developer.  But I would be very cautious.  Too often in the past we’ve heard promises from a developer who was going to come in and do something, the public gets very enthusiastic about it, and then we have egg on our face.  My wife is fond of saying that sometimes we look like we have egg on our face because we have egg on our face.” 

Ostenburg continued, “I would caution that we not make this look like a bigger deal than it is at this juncture.  At this juncture we have a potential developer who is interested in purchasing the property, we’ve talked to him, we’ve done our due diligence, we’re impressed with him – there are many steps that have to be taken after this.  I think we have to be guarded about that. I think we have to be guardedly optimistic and not overly enthusiastic that the savior has arrived.  It’s going to be a difficult project.”

Village Manager Tom Mick responded, “I think staff understands where you are coming from, John.  From a staff standpoint, I want to see that glass as being half full.  I would hope that, come the middle of June, you’re seeing more signs that this is the real deal.” 

This meeting took place on Tuesday, April 10. At the board meeting on Monday, May 7, Mike Nassimi, President of Nassimi Realty Corp. will attend when the board considers a sales contract with Nassimi for Norwood.