Fenwick High School recently expressed “renewed” interest in purchasing a portion of the Altenheim property from the village, according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who spoke to a representative of the Oak Park-based collage prep school earlier this month.
That “renewed” interest, as Gillian put it, prompted him to contact LaSalle Group LLC, a Chicago appraisal company, last week, to gauge the value of the village-owned property. Prior to this, Gillian announced Fenwick’s return to the negotiating table at the March 14 village council meeting, where he said talks had matured to the point that an appraisal of the property was necessary.
In an effort to control development of one of the few open spaces in Forest Park, the village purchased the property for $3.6 million in 2002. It was last appraised in 2006 at $5.3 million. The coming appraisal will determine the impact of the deep recession on the property’s value.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian asked Gillian at the March 14 meeting why more information about the talks wasn’t shared with commissioners. He then asked for additional information, but has since been provided none, he said.
“This is the next step, there was none before that,” Gillian told the Forest Park Review, noting that nothing has been kept from village officials, and the first bit of new information he received he shared with the public and the board at that council meeting.
Fenwick and River Forest-based Dominican University casually discussed purchasing the property last year following the collapse of a deal between the village and West Cook YMCA in 2009. The high school and university were interested in using the space to build athletic fields, but last November Fenwick gave an “indication” that Dominican was no longer interested, according to Mayor Anthony Calderone. What’s more, talks with both parties were stalled prior to this, said the mayor.
“We’re not actively pursuing the village or in active negotiations with Fenwick,” Amy McCormack, Dominican’s senior vice president of administration, told the Review last week.
McCormack added that Dominican is still open to negotiations, though. “If there’s an opportunity to have a conversation then we would do so,” she said.
But Fenwick is back, and Gillian said it wants to build a 1,000- to 1,500-seat stadium, with locker rooms, two football fields, and space for soccer and lacrosse. No drawn plans were available, though.
“This is just a concept,” Gillian said.
“We’d love to acquire that space in the hopes of developing athletic fields,” said R.J. McMahon, Fenwick’s director of development, who has spoken with Gillian a few times. “We’re very interested.”
McMahon said he only met Gillian in person recently, but that both parties are serious enough to get separate appraisals and then attempt to come to some agreement on the price.
“We didn’t really set a time, but I would hope some time in April,” said McMahon, of when Fenwick wants to get the property appraised.
The village cannot sell the property for less than 80 percent of market value, both Gillian and Tellalian pointed out, as dictated by state law.
Tellalian is frustrated by what he perceives as continued efforts by Gillian and Calderone to exclude him, the village council and the public from offering input and gathering information on the sale.
“I have no way of knowing how serious or what stage the discussions are [at],” Tellalian said. “What’s been transpiring over the years, I don’t know. Only Tim and…maybe the mayor, can know how extensive [the talks are].”
Both Gillian and Calderone shrugged this notion off.
“Ultimately not one thing has happened that any of the commissioners haven’t been informed of,” Gillian said. “The only thing that has changed is that it’s necessary to start arriving at a purchase price so we can see if Fenwick is interested in the property.”
“There simply has not been a lot that’s going on,” Calderone said. “There’s this…conspiracy theory that there’s some significant talks going on behind the scenes.”
McCormack supported this claim and said, “We’ve had one brief conversation with the mayor.”
She also said the Review’s past coverage of the matter suggested that Dominican’s relationship with Fenwick is far more solidified than it actually is
“I’ve had a few casual conversations with Fenwick,” she said. “Nothing is scheduled.”
But, regardless of the amount of information available, Tellalian still thinks he, as commissioner of public property, and the public should be more involved. He called for town hall meetings as did several other candidates at an election forum last week.
“The council decided that they wanted me to be at the lead of the negotiations,” Calderone said.
The board voted 4 to 1 on a resolution on March 10, 2010 that appointed the mayor sole negotiator in the sale of the Altenheim property. Tellalian is the only commissioner who voted “nay.”
“The majority of the council thinks I may be better poised at negotiations,” Calderone said.
“The council’s will was [for] the mayor to be the lead,” said Mark Hosty, commissioner of streets and public improvement. Hosty also accused Tellalian of calling Fenwick and saying the village was not interested in selling the property.
Tellalian denies this, and McMahon, who said he spoke with Tellalian “last fall or last summer” said, “I don’t recall that.”
“The commissioner was actually interested in coming at it from a different persepctive,” McMahon added, noting that Tellalian suggested involving the park district in the talks. The park district was not interested in the deal, though.
Calderone told the Review that his correspondence with both Fenwick and Dominican over the last year has been limited to “casual conversations” and a “few lunches.” There was a break for several months midway through 2010, but those “casual” talks resumed again last September, he said. He also added that he had a “substantive talk” with a Fenwick representative in November.
When Tellalian complained that information was not being shared, following Gillian’s March 14 administrator’s report, Gillian referenced a closed-session meeting Tellalian attended with the board last year to discuss the sale of the Altenheim.
“Tellalian indicated that he never heard anything about Fenwick,” Gillian said, adding that the commissioner “was forced to admit that he was at the meeting.”
Tellalian acknowledged being at the March 8, 2010 closed-session discussions, but he told the Review that he felt the meeting violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act, because the sale of public property was being discussed in private. Subsequently, he submitted a letter to a branch of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office last year. The letter was not answered, but discussions regarding the sale appeared on the agenda for the following meeting after he did that.
“We were discussing what we wanted to do with the property,” Tellalian said. “We should have been engaging the public, or at least discussing it with them.”
Tellalian’s stance on this issue highlights the talking points of his mayoral campaign: “transparency” and “participatory government.” The issue also underscores tensions between Tellalian and Calderone, the incumbent hopeful; as well as Tellalian and Gillian. Tellalian has publically stated that Gillian will not retain his position as village administrator if the current commissioner is elected mayor.