From the manicured lawns of their 16-acre campus, park district officials have a front-row seat to the deteriorating conditions that have seized one of the most storied properties in Forest Park. Over the last three years, developers have tried to breathe new life into the so-called Roos property that sits immediately east of the park, but financial hardship appears to have all but killed the effort.
Now, the park district says it may be poised to buy the crumbling property, possibly relieving the developers and the community of a crumbling expense.
“It’s an eyesore,” park district Commissioner Sam Alonzo said while looking at the exposed guts of an incomplete residential rehab effort.
Alonzo and his colleagues on the board voted unanimously March 26 to try and engage the owners of the Roos in negotiations for the property. The director of the park district, Larry Piekarz, said he has been crunching numbers and beating the bushes for the last month to determine whether his organization could buy the property. He acknowledged he has no idea whether the owners are looking to sell, but Piekarz said there appears to be an opportunity here.
“My greatest dream would be for them to say, ‘let’s donate this to the park,'” Piekarz said of contacting the Roos owners.
The owners of the property are Alex Troyanovsky and Tomasz Litwicki, who won approval from the village in 2007 to develop and redevelop a large housing project. Using portions of the vacant brick structure that once housed various industries – most notably the Edward Roos Cedar Chest Company – Troyanovsky and Litwicki planned to carve out 70 residential condominiums. Another 28 townhouses were slated for the western edge of the parcel.
But housing markets and the economy in general have soured dramatically since. In the middle of 2008, Litwicki acknowledged the project was months behind schedule and that pre-construction sales had been far from brisk. He offered that the townhouses may never be built.
That downward slide apparently hasn’t changed, and Director of Public Health and Safety Mike Boyle said his office hasn’t had a request for permits at the site in some time.
“Things are basically kind of at a stand-still,” Boyle said last week. “We haven’t seen any activity going on.”
Calls to Litwicki’s and Troyanovsky’s cell phones were not returned.
Approval for the housing development was granted in 2007 and, according to Boyle, the developers have until June 12, 2009, to turn things around. If the permitting process is not complete and work hasn’t resumed, the village council’s approval of the project expires. If that approval lapses, the market value of the property will certainly decrease.
A search of county records revealed no liens or foreclosure proceedings have been filed against the project. However, foreclosure proceedings on another of Troyanovsky’s holdings, 1044 Lake in Oak Park, are underway.
Assuming the developers are willing to sell, the park district must find a way to pay for the site. According to Piekarz, the park has reached its capacity to borrow money, though it may be possible to refinance its existing debt. A referendum to increase taxes is unattractive, said Piekarz.
That leaves grant money and other aid, which the park district director has been actively looking for.
During the last week of March, Piekarz attended a national conference in Washington, D.C., and met with Illinois’ legislators to discuss the possibility of federal assistance. He brought a packet of information with photos of the property and pitched the project to the state’s senators and representatives. No guarantees were reached, said Piekarz, but there seemed to be genuine interest on the part of the legislators.
Members of the delegation have said Illinois could see as much as $1.5 billion as a result of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.
Park Commissioner Cathy McDermott said she fully supports Piekarz’s efforts, but is concerned that the price tag could be too large. The expense could hamstring the district’s budget, she said.
“My concern is I don’t want to handicap future generations,” McDermott said. “There’s also the possibility of eminent domain, but I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”