Both the Village Council and the Park District of Forest Park will withhold making a decision on offering to buy the Roos property from developer Patrick Wangler until a joint property appraisal can be completed commissioners from both bodies decided during last Wednesday’s joint meeting.
“It was never my intention to convene tonight and get a final answer,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone of the decision.
The meeting’s discussion on the matter was originally scheduled as a closed session but, surprisingly, the commissioners voted it open after Forest Park Commissioner Timothy Gillian suggested the move was unnecessary, as the conversation would not be financially driven.
During the discussion, park commissioners and park employees disclosed the biggest roadblock to the proposed buy was the park district’s current debt. In fact, during the proceedings newly elected Park Commissioner Cathleen McDermott suggested the buy might not be the most financially sound decision for the park.
Due to the aquatic center and soccer field’s expenses the park district finds itself owing $3.9 million and it is projected that the park district will not fully retire that debt until 2026.
“Our debt limit is $8.1 million,” said Jerry Sebesta, park district treasurer.
As it stands, it appears that if the park district were to acquire the property for $3.75 million that would push its debt within $450,000 of the limit.
Park district officials said it would not have the capability to acquire the funds for such a project until March 2006 and commissioners worried they would have to pass another referendum to obtain the funds for the purchase.
At the joint meeting, officials also discussed options for subdividing the site, using a portion for park land while developing another portion for residential use. Such a plan could offset acquisition costs.
Wangler, the property owner, has already acquired the necessary construction permits and looks forward to starting the demolition of the former factory and warehouse building on Harrison Street at Circle Avenue.
He has received an Environmental Protection Agency permit to proceed with the demolition. According to the permit, the demolition must take place between May 27 and June 27 of this year. However, Wangler still faces an injunction aimed at stopping the demolition.
Sprint PCS filed the injunction earlier this month against Wangler to stall demolition of the property’s main structure in order to keep operating its cell tower, located on the building’s roof.
The injunction, entered May 12 in the Circuit Court of Cook County allows Wangler to demolish all other structures, but keeps him from beginning demolition of the main structure, as he has entered into a 20-year contract with Sprint, allowing them to operate their cell tower on his property.
“We can’t commit to a project without any money available for another year, year and a half,” McDermott told village commissioners.
Both bodies also discussed possible uses for the property if they were to enter into a joint purchase program.
“Let’s not lose sight that once we buy it we have to do something with it,” Commissioner Theresa Steinbach said.
Discussed uses include a wellness center and a mix of residential and office, as well as green space.
Commissioner Mark Hosty proposed that the property should be divided in two; one half residential and the other half park. He reasoned that this way the village could see a return on its investment.
In terms of purchasing potential, commissioners spoke of the possibility of declaring the property an eminent domain parcel, forcing the developer to sell the land to the village for the public good. If the village chose this path it could tie up the property for years in courts, said Village Attorney Michael Durkin.
Another possibility would be to seek out federal moneys and grants to help offset the cost for the local government bodies.
At the forefront of all discussion, however, is the possibility that the developer will not sell or that the price will fluctuate as demolition and construction begins.
“Once he starts placing new buildings and new construction the price will go up,” said Durkin said.
The bodies agreed to discuss the matter further after the village and park’s property appraisal is completed.