Leaders of the park district in Forest Park say they’re convinced that owning the dilapidated and crumbling property that sits immediately east of the park facilities is in the best interest of the community – but they want to know what residents think.
One day after learning that Amcore Bank is foreclosing on the so-called Roos property, commissioners for the park unanimously supported bringing a referendum to voters on whether the park should buy the site. Park officials said they don’t know yet how much money might be needed to buy and rehab the Roos. They are certain, however, that a tax increase is necessary.
“What we want to know from the people is, do you want to pursue this,” Larry Piekarz, executive director for the parks, said.
Earlier this month, a Chicago branch of Amcore Bank filed paperwork in Cook County Circuit Court to foreclose on the Roos. Amcore loaned $15 million to developers Alex Troyanovsky and Tomasz Litwicki to transform the vacant factory into condominiums. Townhouses were slated for the western side of the property.
In its heyday, the building was home to the Roos Cedar Chest Company, but has been in a period of decline for several years. Troyanovsky won approval from the municipality in 2007 to install residential units at the site, but work in earnest never got under way as the nationwide recession took hold.
According to court records, the developers owe the bank more than $6.9 million. In late March, a Chicago architecture firm filed a lien against the property seeking to claim more than $334,000.
The foreclosure filing caught the park district off guard, according to Cathy McDermott, newly minted board president. As recently as two weeks ago, McDermott said, conversations with various brokers and Amcore suggested there was no rush for the bank to try and claim the property.
“Nobody anticipated this going into foreclosure,” McDermott said. “The combination of people we talked to said, ‘Don’t worry about it, they’re not going to foreclose.’ “
Prior to Amcore’s court filing, the park district had loosely pegged the value of the Roos at $3 million, McDermott revealed. They anticipated it would take another $5 million to $7 million to make various improvements. The foreclosure changes everything, she said.
The park district’s intention is to pitch the referendum to voters in February. In the meantime, Piekarz said he’ll work to assemble a group of residents and community stakeholders to solicit public support for the initiative. Both Piekarz and McDermott said they have no sense as to whether voters would back a tax increase to buy the Roos. McDermott said she’s inclined to believe the decision will not be influenced by sentimentality.
“I think this is going to be the almighty wallet,” McDermott said. “It’s going to come down to, is it a need or is it a want.”
The Roos represents the last opportunity for the park to expand, said McDermott, and is perhaps Forest Park’s only shot at procuring more green space.
“It’s a necessity,” she said.