With acknowledgements that a years-long negotiating process has taken its toll on both sides, it appeared Monday that Forest Park commissioners and the West Cook YMCA would again find themselves at loggerheads on a multimillion dollar project. Terse accusations of selfishness and dishonesty were traded, and Mayor Anthony Calderone said plainly that the parties simply do not trust one another.
In somewhat stunning fashion the bickering was put aside and the village council agreed to the minutia of a complicated development deal that is expected to yield a state-of-the-art recreation facility on the west side of town. Following four years of haggling, a massive fundraising effort by the YMCA and construction remain.
“We, at some times, came to the negotiating table with boxing gloves on,” Calderone said of the sentiments that came to a head during the Jan. 26 council meeting.
Commissioners were asked to vote on eight contracts and administrative documents that would clear the way for YMCA officials to begin soliciting in earnest donations to help pay for what is expected to be a $17 million facility. The West Cook YMCA currently runs its programs in an aging building in Oak Park. The proposed location, adjacent to the Altenheim property off of Madison Street, gives the YMCA nearly 8 acres to build a 105,000-square foot complex that would house at least one swimming pool, basketball courts, meeting rooms and other exercise space. Soccer and baseball fields would be included on the campus, as well as parking.
Sparking tension Monday was whether the YMCA would agree to provide an evening basketball program – free of charge – to Forest Park children. One of the proposed contracts stipulated that service would take the form of an organized league with standard fees. Currently, according to YMCA President Scott Gaalaas, teams can join a league for about $500.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins balked at the fees for this program and was joined by commissioners Mike Curry and Marty Tellalian in crying foul. In earlier discussions between the parties, the commissioners claimed it was made clear that the YMCA needed to provide certain discounts and programs in exchange for a 20 percent break on the land purchased from the municipality on which the facility would be built. This basketball program, they said, was a “deal breaker.”
“I think what we thought is the Y would give something back to the village, if you will,” Hoskins said.
Tellalian accused the non-profit of negotiating in bad faith.
“As far as I recall, it was never discussed as a free program,” Jim Lencioni, chairman of the YMCA board of directors, said.
To solve the problem, representatives of the YMCA huddled privately for several minutes to see if they could formulate a proposal that the council would agree to. When the group returned, Lencioni suggested that a minimal fee to cover administrative costs be charged, and that participants have the option of organizing as a league or simply playing pickup games. Council members agreed.
“This is a multimillion dollar deal and we have agreed on everything in this deal except the cost of a basketball league,” Curry said, calling for resolution.