First reported 11/13/2009 11:44 a.m.
The first details of the park district’s multi-million dollar plan to incorporate the former Roos Cedar Chest factory into its existing campus were revealed last week, and the conversation quickly moved to the bottom line.
Cathleen McDermott, president of the park board, said voters would see a tax increase of about 12 cents for every $100 of their assessed property value. That increase would provide the park with $6 million to purchase and renovate the site, she said.
The Park District of Forest Park, situated on 16 acres stretching east along Harrison Street from Desplaines Avenue to the vacant industrial site at the corner of Circle Avenue, expects to ask voters in February to approve a referendum that would enable the district to purchase the Roos property. Voters will have their say on Feb. 2, 2010.
The 2.5-acre Roos parcel represents a “natural progression” of the park, said McDermott, and may be the last opportunity for residents to secure green space within the community.
“Once you get that property, the possibilities are endless,” McDermott said.
Approximately 30 people attended the Nov. 12 forum, and the response from audience members was generally supportive of the initiative.
Following a brief presentation from the park district’s architect on how the site may be developed, residents offered suggestions on how to win greater support for the proposal. A grassroots campaign is being organized to that end, and Rachell Entler, a longtime park volunteer and wife of board member Eric Entler, is co-chairing the group, Friends of the Park.
Supporters have less than three months to convince voters before they head to the polls. Additional forums to discuss the proposal are already scheduled for Dec. 12 and Jan. 17.
“We’re going to take our show on the road and talk to anyone who will talk to us,” McDermott said.
First draft: An architect’s rendering of a proposed redevelopment of the Roos property was presented to voters on Nov. 12.
Park officials made clear that their plans for the Roos site are preliminary. In addition to input from residents, the designs could be altered by financial considerations and by the municipality’s vetting of the project.
As a starting point, the park is proposing to demolish the crumbling brick structure, except for the original portion that fronts along Harrison Street. Preserving this element would give the park a three-story building with about 8,000 square feet of space per floor. A large, grassy area would anchor the expansion and could double as an outdoor concert venue. The plans also called for a community garden along the northern edge of the site.
Joe Brusseau, the architect for the project, estimated construction would take 12 to 15 months.
Residents who attended the discussion, and park officials alike, expressed an interest in also developing an indoor gymnasium. Such a facility could not be housed in the Roos structure because of massive columns there, and no architectural plans were presented.
That project also may not be covered by any revenues acquired through the proposed tax increase. There remains a critical but undefined variable that park officials said they simply can’t pin down at this point. The purchase price for the Roos remains in limbo.
“It depends on the price we get that property for,” Larry Piekarz, executive director of the park district, said. “There’s a very good chance that that gym is part of this project.”
Amcore Bank, which provided a $15 million loan for the failed housing development at the Roos, filed to foreclose on the property in May. The park district has made the bank aware of its intentions to purchase the property, said McDermott, but it’s unclear how many other potential buyers may be interested.
Meanwhile, Amcore is under mounting pressure from federal regulators to raise capital or risk being seized by the government. Amcore has until Dec. 4 to resubmit a plan to restore solvency.
“At some point we’re going to have to get an appraisal,” McDermott said. “We’re just not there yet.”