Former Elk Grove Village farm takes shape as high tech hub
Elk Grove's newest development keys on grouping high tech businesses
On land once envisioned for the gridiron of the Chicago Bears, likenesses of elk roam today instead.
Those 29 bronze figures represent the massive $1 billion Elk Grove Technology Park under development on what had been the largest remaining tract of land near O'Hare International Airport. Scores of developers have long pursued the 70-acre site, home to the Busse family farm since the 19th century. The land still yielded wheat, oats and alfalfa into the 21st century, even as suburbia grew around it.
Chicago's NFL franchise twice considered the property as it toyed with moving to the suburbs. George "Papa Bear" Halas came there in 1975, and his grandson Michael McCaskey visited in 1998. The latter effort stalled within a yard of the goal line as the team couldn't secure financing.
Michael Brennan, chairman of Rosemont-based Brennan Investment Group, was the one to finally strike a deal, bringing his plan for nine speculative and build-to-suit buildings totaling 1.2 million square feet of space to house data storage centers and companies specializing in robotic, digital and automated manufacturing technology.
"Anyone who's an industrial person in Chicago knew of Busse Farm," Brennan said. "It was a highly coveted site. If you didn't want to develop the Busse site, then you're not an industrial person."
Since breaking ground a year ago, three buildings have been completed and walls are up on a fourth on the west side of the site, while construction on the second phase eastern portion could begin this fall. Plans are also being drawn up for a hotel at the northern Higgins Road entrance.
Earlier this month, Elk Grove Village officials and the developer announced the first tenant who inked a lease: Germany-based Broetje-Automation, which will occupy 43,200 square feet in one of the first four buildings for its U.S. headquarters and production facility. The company manufactures and assembles robotic systems and automated composite manufacturing equipment for the aerospace industry. An opening date is planned for October.
Officials have not revealed other firms they're talking with, but said they're looking for "clean" manufacturers, with an emphasis on luring data centers. Elk Grove Village has 11 such centers already, and ComEd is building a new substation just blocks away to be able to handle the electricity demand.
In total, the tech park will cover 85 acres -- roughly bounded by Higgins Road, Lively Boulevard, Oakton Street and Stanley Street. In addition to the 70-acre Busse farm -- which sold for an undisclosed amount in the "tens and tens of millions," Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said -- the deal included adjacent parcels, including some houses, industrial businesses and a village fire station.
The Elk Grove site is among suburban business parks that have branded themselves with "technology" in the title. In May, developer BK Equities unveiled plans for a 53-acre, four-building Hoffman Technology Park on the north side of Lakewood Boulevard about a quarter-mile east of Barrington Road in Hoffman Estates. The developer hopes to close on their purchase of the site in August and begin seeking formal approval of the project in September.
The 800-acre DuPage Business Center south of Roosevelt Road in West Chicago was originally dubbed the DuPage National Technology Park and envisioned for high-tech businesses. But it long struggled to find tenants amid the recession. The DuPage Airport Authority, the property's owner, later expanded the list of potential uses and had commercial real estate firm NAI Hiffman market the site. There's now seven projects that are under construction or planned there.
Mark Peterson, CEO of Intersect Illinois, the state's privately funded nonprofit economic development office, said the tech park concept can be successful in good economic times, and he expects other communities to look at Elk Grove as a bellwether as they consider developing parks of their own.
"It's about being strategic where you have assets and where you create a level of uniqueness difficult to find elsewhere in the marketplace," he said.
The Elk Grove tech park is being built on the north side of the village's 6-square-mile industrial park -- the largest in the country -- that is home to some 3,600 businesses, including 400 manufacturers, and 100,000 employees. When complete, the tech park will account for more than 2% of the sprawling Elk Grove Village industrial hub.
Being next to O'Hare and near several interstate highways made the Busse property "the best of the best," Brennan said. "The bull's-eye of the O'Hare market is right where Busse farm was."
Developers contacted village hall at least once a month over the past decade to offer various proposals for the land -- usually trucking companies, or other uses village leaders deemed "detrimental," Johnson said.
Even though the farm was unincorporated land within Elk Grove Township, Elk Grove Village surrounded it on all sides, so any interested developer essentially had to work with the village to annex the land and be able to tap into municipal water and sewer services.
Some developers, though, tried to get approvals directly through Cook County. In recent years, Johnson went so far as to pursue a village purchase of the land so he and other village officials could have a direct say in redevelopment. The mayor said he had a "handshake" deal with Tim Busse, the last owner of the property, but Busse walked away. Still, Johnson credited county officials with deferring to the village on any redevelopment prospects.
Then Brennan came along in 2015 with a proposal that matched what Johnson was thinking. The mayor wanted a development that would help rejuvenate the oldest portion of Elk Grove Village's industrial park, built 60-some years ago.
"Whatever went there -- the last piece of property of any significance in Elk Grove history -- we wanted to be a showcase for the entire region," the mayor said. "We just didn't want a truck company. We wanted something that would showcase the community and be a catalyst for that area of the business park."
Two years ago, the mayor used his annual State of the Village address to announce that a major development was being discussed, and that "Busse Farm is not going to be a farm for much longer."
In the ensuing months, the village annexed the land and set up a 165-acre tax increment financing district, of which half is the tech park. Increased tax revenue generated by the new development will go to a fund to pay for roads, sewers, water mains and street lighting.
Elk Grove Village also endorsed a Cook County Class 6b tax break that allows the industrial property to be assessed at lower levels for a dozen years.
Brennan says his team continues to talk to several business owners interested in coming to the new industrial park. It could take two years to complete the development.
Meanwhile, Brennan has kept one baby elk statue in his office as he continues to work on the project. All of the elk statues -- the developer's idea -- will become part of the landscaping, which also will include water features, bike paths and pedestrian walkways.
"I'm not letting it out until we lease the site," he said. "Then we will let it out into the pasture and back to its habitat."
• Daily Herald staff writers Eric Peterson and Robert Sanchez contributed to this report.