Stinging from the realization last week that a prolonged and costly effort to build a new YMCA in Forest Park couldn’t secure the backing of enough financial contributors, parties to the effort are slowly refocusing their sights.
At the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park, board members and administrators have programs to manage. In Forest Park, village officials are focused on collecting earnest money that was part of the failed deal, and at the Altenheim – the most immediate neighbor to the still vacant seven-acre parcel – the waiting game resumes.
“The YMCA is not the building,” Jan Pate, president of the local nonprofit said. “It’s the programming.”
Pate and members of her volunteer board are resolute that a new campus may still be possible – but it won’t be the $24 million campus that was negotiated with Forest Park and the Altenheim. It is too soon after the decision to kill that project for any definitive alternatives. However, Pate said the organization is open to discussing “any and all options” with the suburban communities served by the YMCA.
Not to be: This rendering of a planned YMCA in Forest Park is now just a reminder of what proponents were not able to produce.
On Sept. 29, the YMCA board voted 23-1 to scrap plans for an 80,000-square foot building in Forest Park that would have been constructed on land currently owned by the village. The decision was prompted by months of relatively fruitless fundraising. Approximately $3.4 million had been raised for the new building. The YMCA was scheduled to close on the vacant land in February, and would have had to begin construction 30 days later, according to a purchase agreement with the municipality.
The YMCA and the village reached a sales agreement on the land in November 2007. It wasn’t until January 2009 that a handful of related contracts were signed.
The decision brings a hollow conclusion to what was a five-year negotiation between the YMCA, the municipality and the Altenheim, a senior living facility that holds strict land-use covenants against the village’s property.
“We’ve spent, approximately, far more than $300,000 in attorney’s fees and land-planning fees that we have no way to recover from anybody,” Tim Herlehy, president of the Altenheim board of directors, said. “It’s going to hurt us tremendously, financially.”
Village Administrator Tim Gillian did not speculate on the costs of the lengthy negotiation with the YMCA, but said that for the village there is some good news. An earnest payment of $175,000 should be retained by the municipality. In addition, the YMCA made close to a year’s worth of monthly payments of approximately $14,500 into an escrow account to cover the village’s holding costs on the land. Forest Park’s attorneys have been asked to begin working to secure those funds, said Gillian.
Pate did not dispute that money belongs to the village.
“We’ll be in compliance with that,” Pate said of the account.
Several years ago, while Gillian was serving as a member of the council, the YMCA first broached the subject of purchasing the municipality’s land for a new recreation facility. Ironically, one of the first phone calls Gillian said he received after being hired Sept. 15 as the village administrator was from Pate. He knew she had already been speaking with the elected officials about the contractual deadlines.
Two weeks later he and Mayor Anthony Calderone got the final word from Pate following her board’s vote.
“Bottom line, they just said they are having a hard time raising the funds and don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” Gillian said.
Geri McLauchlan, chairwoman of the YMCA board, said one of the organization’s immediate goals is to expand the reach of its offerings through new partnerships. In particular, the YMCA would like to find different agencies to serve as hosts. Conversations with churches, schools and hospitals have already begun, but no partnerships have been solidified.
In that vein, Pate confirmed she intends to meet with Larry Piekarz, executive director of the Park District of Forest Park, on Oct. 9. It would be the first meeting between the two since Pate was hired June 30. Both Piekarz and Pate said the vacant Roos property – immediately east of the park – could be a topic of conversation. Piekarz is in the midst of preparing for a February referendum vote that could lead to the district acquiring the property.
As part of the fundraising effort for the failed YMCA project, the organization had hoped to sell its 55-year-old building at the corner of Marion and Randolph. The property, said Pate, is not under contract and will continue to serve as the home of the YMCA for the foreseeable future.