The oft discussed real estate potential along Harlem Avenue in the northern half of Forest Park is again bubbling to the surface as one property owner looks to renovate a vacant lot, potentially making way for a sizable project.

Rod Nunley, the owner of the building once occupied by the Nutbush City Limits tavern and an attached liquor store at 7201 Franklin St., is preparing to demolish the structure in hopes of building a new facility to house his auto repair business. Nunley currently runs Elite Tire and Auto Service at 25 N. Harlem Ave., which sits immediately to the north.

If Nunley is able to relocate his business, the move may help open up several possibilities for a large portion of the block, which is held in a land trust with Midwest Bank.

“We have put together a potential group for a development there, but nothing is in stone yet,” said Sherri Krisco, a real estate agent with Bern Realty, who represents the trust. “There’s really nothing at this point until we know that Rod is going to move.”

As of April 7 Nunley said he’s still waiting for a demolition permit, but expects to begin work on taking down the vacant building soon. Over the weekend the property was used by the fire department to conduct a training exercise.

Village Administrator Mike Sturino said members of the building department are working with Nunley on plans for a new garage. Helping Nunley relocate his longstanding business is a goal of the municipality, said Sturino, but public officials have also long sought to redevelop the Harlem Avenue corridor. Talks with Krisco and other potential developers could lead to a significant project in that area, he said.

“The discussions have been substantive,” Sturino said. “I believe [the project] we would recommend represents some of the most significant investment [in Forest Park] by the private sector in a number of years.”

Sturino declined to comment on any specifics related to the discussed development, nor would he identify the potential players.

Krisco would not name the individuals behind the trust, which owns the land occupied by a nearby CVS pharmacy and Dunkin’ Donuts, in addition to Nunley’s shop. Krisco said that in no way is her office putting pressure on Nunley to relocate. She said she expects the auto shop to remain at its current location until the lease agreement expires at the end of June 2009.

Further stressing the hypothetical nature of the talks, Krisco said she is waiting to hear from the village as to what type of project Forest Park favors for the location. The property owner is open to a number of options, said Krisco, which may include commercial, residential or some combination of uses.

The area in question along Harlem Avenue is zoned as a community shopping district, which allows buildings up to seven stories in height.

The block could also be reshaped by still emerging plans to reconstruct the Harlem Avenue viaduct at the junction with South Boulevard. Talks between Forest Park, the state and neighboring communities call for the relocation of Circle Avenue as it meets Harlem Avenue. Circle Avenue forms the northern border for the properties owned by the land trust.

Nunley said he has not been pressured by the village or the property owner with respect to relocating his garage. For years, he said, rumors have circulated that some large scale condo or commercial development is coming to the block, but he’s seen no evidence of such.

Nunley wouldn’t speculate as to when he might be able to reopen his shop at the corner of Harlem and Franklin streets, but said it depends in large part on the permitting process.

“It’s a matter of getting the little things out of the way to proceed,” Nunley said.