By Aidan Grogan
A plan is underway to convert the legendary, closed Hackney’s restaurant into a Wu’s House Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, and it is not without public skepticism.
More than 40 residents attended a community meeting at the Palos Park Library last Tuesday, citing concerns over the architecture of the building when renovated, as well as potential noise pollution, lighting, smell and traffic.
“I think everyone’s gonna miss the Hackney’s feel and culture,” local resident Adrienne Jackiw said. “They’ll (the developers) have to definitely bridge the gap between what people’s perception of a sushi restaurant is and what a Japanese hibachi restaurant is.”
Some residents are strongly opposed to the opening of a Wu’s House at the former Hackney’s site on the northeast corner of 123rd Street and Lagrange Road (Rt. 45). They worried about the new restaurant’s potential impact on the ambience of the village.
“Is this a done deal? Because I am not happy with this,” a resident said. “It’s gonna stick out like a sore thumb there. This needs to be a neighborhood establishment, not a chain.”
Another resident said that the proposed new restaurant design looks like a funeral home.
In certified letters sent by the developer’s attorney to nearby property owners, the plan is described as a “renovation and expansion.”
But artist’s renditions on display of the proposed restaurant had little, if any, outward resemblance to the rustic, chalet-style building known to generations of people as Hackney’s and, before that, the Matterhorn.
Hackney’s officially closed last January after 33 years in operation. Management cited “increased costs for significant maintenance on our building.”
Wu’s House owner Michael Wu said that he is not planning to host outside entertainment at the new restaurant but will be playing dining music. A new roof will be added in the renovation process, along with 24 total exhaust fans.
Wu said that the entire budget for the construction of the new restaurant is $4.5 million. Total square footage for the proposed establishment would be 7,300.
Other Wu’s House restaurants are in Orland Park, Evergreen Park and a soon-to-open location in Mokena, according to the company’s website.
Wu is considering including an apartment in the second floor, which his representatives at the meeting said would be done to reduce property taxes.
A woman in attendance, who identified herself as an attorney, gave her opinion about Wu’s hope for a property tax deduction, saying, “It doesn’t seem very neighborly to already come out and say ‘I’m gonna put a second story apartment in there to reduce property taxes.’”
Despite opposition among some residents, Wu is confident that the plans to open the new Wu’s House will go through. “People have concerns. I understand that’s normal,” he said. “We always try to cooperate with those neighbors. We want the neighbors and the community happy.”
Resident Tom Burak shares Wu’s overall optimistic views about the success of the restaurant.
“Some of the people here are interested. Some don’t want any change,” Burak said. “I personally think they’re going to put an improvement on that corner.”
Palos Park Community Development Director Lauren Pruss, who said she was not attending the meeting in an official capacity, nevertheless was questioned and said that the mayor and village council will make the final decision regarding this proposal.
“The only reason this has to come forward to the mayor and council for approval is because they’re putting an addition, and they’re modifying the exterior to the building,” she said.
Pruss also said that another restaurant can come in and reoccupy the old Hackney’s building, but so far only Wu’s House has made a proposal.
“There will be a subsequent public hearing held where the plan commission will consider public testimony, make a recommendation to the village council, and the village council has the final decision-making authority,” Pruss said.
The public hearing time and date is to be determined, dependent on the date of the zoning application, according to Pruss.
The Regional will be sure to publish an announcement of the plan commission/public hearing meeting. If the announcement is made too late to meeting the paper’s printing deadline, the information will be posted at www.TheRegionalNews.com and its Facebook page