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CHICAGO-Seven Illinois State Tollway oases, including five in the suburbs, will be rebuilt or renovated under a development and lease deal worth more than $125 million. Most of that money is up front, as Los Angeles-based shopping center developers Wilton Partners will spend $94 million through 2005 rebuilding oases in Hinsdale, Lake Forest, Schiller Park and South Holland, as well as Belvidere, while facilities in Des Plaines and DeKalb will be remodeled and expanded.

In addition, Wilton Partners will lease the oases, each containing about 40,000 sf of retail space spanning about 300 feet across tollways, under 25-year net deals. In turn, the developers plan to sublease the space to fast-food and service tenants, with Oak Brook-based hamburger giant McDonald’s being the anchor tenant. Prospective tenants include Fifth Third Bank, Krispy Kreme and Starbucks.

“We see these outdated structures as a unique opportunity,” says Jay Wilton.

All but the DeKalb and South Holland oases were built in 1959. DeKalb is the newest oasis at 28 years old, while South Holland’s was built in 1968.

The tollway authority will share in the success of the retail operations, says executive director Jack Hartman. Wilton Partners and the tollway authority will split proceeds above annual base rents, he says. Wilton estimates first-year base rents at $1.172 million, which would make the lease portion of the deal worth of minimum of $29.3 million to the tollway authority.

The tollway authority also collects 3% from Exxon/Mobil from gasoline sales, which add up to more than 2 million gallons at each oasis per year.

“The bottom line is that these improvements come at no expense to the taxpayers,” Hartman claims.

While the oases serve as modern-day road houses for long-distance travelers and truckers, about 75% of their business is now generated by commuters.

Construction of a new oasis in Schiller Park, over the Tri-State Tollway, has begun. It will include a car wash, as will the oasis in nearby Des Plaines, but with a twist–it will be extended to handle stretch limousines that work O’Hare International Airport, Wilton says.

Work in Belvidere and Des Plaines are next on the construction schedule.

“These buildings are precedent-setting,” Wilton says. “When these buildings are broken down, they’re like shopping centers, and we have experience in shopping centers.

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