As reported by Melissa Lou on page 1 of this week’s Review, the Roos building project, long and bitterly debated over several years is quite possibly dead, or at the very least in a persistent vegetative state.
A combination of financial difficulties and unanswered EPA problems appear to be the main culprits. This collapse appears to be fairly recent because on April 18 Patrick Wangler, spokesman for the development was quoted as saying he “anticipates good solid sales.”
These problems had been rumored for several weeks, but in this town, rumors and gossip are often indistinguishable, and I didn’t pay them much attention.
However, I recently obtained a copy of a letter written by Mayor Calderone to Park Director Dave Novak and members of the Park District Board, indicating that the property is being made available”for a price”to the park district.
The Mayor’s letter contains holes in its logic and needs to be explained in greater detail. It leads me to believe that he knew about this meltdown prior to the date of his letter”April 26. The mayor states in the letter “the best choice of use for this property is for park land and I would initiate dialogue with the park district in an attempt to reach that end.”
This seemed disingenuous to me since the mayor voted for the project to be condominiums. If he did indeed think that the best use for the property would be park land, why did he let himself be caught up in the “development at any cost” tide?
After the 3:2 vote in September to approve the modified condominium plan, the mayor stated that he thought park land would have been the best use but voted for the development because the park district didn’t step up to the plate.
By now, the park district should be used to being the whipping boy when it comes to the topic of land acquisition. It came up in the most recent election and several years ago they took a great deal of heat when they passed on the opportunity to purchase a slice of the Altenheim property.
It wasn’t until sometime after-the-fact that it was made clear that the park district didn’t have sufficient time to put together a plan to purchase the Altenheim property and therefore had to “pass” on the property that was subsequently purchased by the village.
However, the deafening silence by officials at 7501 Harrison during the Roos building saga made the residents of this town wonder whether or not the Park Commissioners had learned a lesson from the Altenheim fiasco.
We again, have a golden opportunity for the village to increase its recreation space. For this to become a reality several things need to happen, and quickly.
1. The village must take steps to put the property under their control for the foreseeable future. While this is being sorted out we cannot allow Wangler and his associates to search for other prospective buyers. In my opinion, Wangler et al have forfeited their right to act unilaterally in respect to this property no matter what the sale of the property would mean to their struggling company. How this takes place is up to the village attorneys. Currently Sprint has filed an injunction against the owners preventing the demolition of the building. This should keep things tied up for the short term, but the village and its legal team need to act swiftly to keep the opportunity to purchase the building available to the village and/or the park district. This may entail invoking eminent domain proceedings against the owners. Recall that with eminent domain local governing bodies have the right to force the sale of private property if it is for the public good, which this would clearly be.
2. The village needs to publicize any potential hazards contained in the building. Residents have voiced health concerns about the demolition but were disregarded as crackpots and loons. Maybe these crackpots and loons have saved other village residents from some nasty carcinogenic surprises ala Oak Parks’ Barrie Park. At the same time, since the building, as-is, will be with us for some time, the village should force the owner to board up the broken windows that dot the premises. If the owners are unwilling or unable to do so, the village needs to take it upon itself to remedy the situation and file a lien against the property to force the owners to then repay the village, with interest.
3. The Village Council and the Park Board need to meet immediately to discuss strategies for the property. This was suggested by the mayor in his letter and is the logical and hopefully fruitful first step. In the letter, the mayor indicates the asking price is $3,750,000. That’s an after-demolition price. Is this price fair? Aren’t all asking prices negotiable? Given the current “sorry” condition of the building, Mr. Wangler and associates are entitled to, at most, a fair return on their money”not an exorbitant profit.
This is not the time for the village or the park district to be timid or to drag their feet. Bold moves need to be taken, and soon. Whatever the final price may be, it would most likely be too high for either entity to acquire individually. Some creative accounting needs to occur, possibly with other parties such as the YMCA, which, as a reminder is still looking for a home.
Whether it’s divine providence or just dumb luck, one of the most contentious issues in the village in the last three years has a chance to be resolved in a way that is favorable to the vast majority of the town’s residents.
Please don’t mess this up!