One day after voters in Forest Park said they would support a property-tax increase so that the park district could purchase another 2.5 acres and expand its offerings, officials there began working to get a deal in place sooner rather than later.
For months, the Park District of Forest Park has been bending the ear of bankers, attorneys, legislators and taxpayers, trying to convince them all of its intentions to spend an estimated $6 million acquiring and rehabbing the so-called Roos property at the corner of Circle and Harrison. The site fell into foreclosure after a massive condo and townhouse project was dragged down by the economy, and now is a massive eyesore that sits immediately to the east of the park’s existing campus. On Feb. 2, an estimated 60 percent of voters gave the park district permission to collect an additional 12 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, and to use that money to acquire the Roos.
The vote was an important step forward, according to Cathy McDermott, president of the park board, but it really marks the beginning of putting plans into action.
“Everything was contingent on the referendum passing,” McDermott said.
According to McDermott, the park has not yet begun talking dollars and cents with Amcore Bank, the lender that foreclosed on the property in May 2009. However, the park district has made clear that it would like to buy the land. Similar conversations have taken place with state and federal lawmakers in the hopes of obtaining grant funding to offset development costs.
Immediately, the next step for the park is to get an appraisal of the Roos. That figure should provide a jumping off point to begin negotiations with Amcore.
Roy Sansone, a member of the park district board, said he’s “100 percent” confident that those negotiations will be fruitful.
“We’ve got the ball in our hands now, and we’re out of the starting block,” he said.
Working in the park district’s favor is that Amcore is facing real pressure from federal regulators to boost its liquidity and dump its troubled holdings. In January, Amcore Financial Inc. was told by the federal Office of the Comptroller that its capital infusion plan was not good enough, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Potentially reducing the park’s leverage at the negotiating table is the possibility of other interested buyers, and the fact that every dollar spent acquiring the property reduces the budget for rehabbing the crumbling former factory into a multi-story gem. During a public awareness campaign regarding the tax referendum, the park unveiled preliminary plans to install green space, walking paths and garden areas around the oldest portion of the Roos building that fronts along Harrison. The badly deteriorated portion of the building that faces Circle Avenue would be demolished. Within the remaining portion, park officials have planned for a fitness center, classroom space, offices and daycare facilities.
McDermott said the board is committed to using its new revenue responsibly and will not pay more than fair market value for the site.