It’s been well over a year since a ferocious fire – an arson – gutted the interior of a two-story brick three-flat that sits across the street from village hall. Since the July 2010 blaze, the building at 512 Desplaines Ave., has been mostly boarded up though it still has a gaping hole in the roof. But despite some discussions, little appears to have been done to plan for the future of the site which is now owned by the village.
The village cuts the grass pretty consistently to make it easier on the eyes, but as Village Administrator Tim Gillian noted at the Oct. 24 council meeting, “It’s a burned-out, abandoned building.”
In other words: it doesn’t look that great.
In an appeal to the village council, at that meeting, Gillian asked board members to give him some direction as to how to move forward with the building.
This sparked a discussion that boiled down to two courses of action: demolish the building or, as Mayor Anthony Calderone said, “walk slowly,” and figure out some other plan.
Both options would likely see the village retain ownership of the property, since it received the property for next to nothing from a bank holding the deed, and that several officials have publically stated they are in favor of holding onto it.
Officials have said the village might be willing to allow the newly reformed Historical Society of Forest Park to move into the building, if and when it is renovated.
This is all very premature, though, said Calderone, in a phone conversation, last week. Calderone was the one who announced the historical society idea to the council, but he quickly pointed out that, currently, it’s “wishful thinking.” He also suggested this idea back in 2010, after the village acquired the building from Deutsche Bank for a portion of the property taxes that were owed.
Calderone said that if the historical society is going to move into the fire-ravaged building it needs to come up with a viable and sustainable plan to pay for renovations and upkeep.
“It would be in their hands to determine how they could go about paying for renovations … [to] develop a plan for permanency,” Calderone said.
Repairing the building won’t be cheap, either. Calderone said last week the village didn’t know, specifically, how much renovations would cost, but he guessed between $100,000 and $200,000. Last year, Calderone told the Review that repair could be as high as $400,000.
Any of those sums far exceed any cash the village can presently put into rehabilitating the building.
“Unless someone comes along with a pile of money, we can’t afford it,” said Gillian.
Carl Schwebl, a longtime Forest Parker and a new member of the historical society, thinks the village and the society can work together in a number of ways.
First, though, the village needs to find out how much repairs will cost, Schwebl said.
He said that money for repairs could come from a number of places including fundraisers, or a loan from the Forest Park National Bank.
From there, Schwebl said the village could rent out the upstairs to tenants, as a source of income; sell it and give a portion of the money to the historical society so it could pay for a permanent home; or even donate it to the organization.
But, the village has no plans to give away the deed to the building and, Calderone said, it doesn’t want the responsibilities that come with being a landlord.
“We don’t think it is government’s job,” he said.
If the village were to work with the historical society it would likely lease the building to the organization and keep the deed to the property, Calderone said. Then, the historical society would be the landlords for second-floor tenants, and would use the rent to operate.
“There’s an awful lot of opportunity,” Schwebl said.
Currently, the historical society is in the process of moving into a temporary home at 7415 Madison St. The second-floor space was donated by property owner Art Sundry. But, perhaps the most pressing need facing the newly reformed society is finding a permanent home, and some, like Schwebl, think 512 Desplaines Ave. could work.
And thus far, all the suggestions that have been made are only speculative, as both Calderone and Schwebl pointed out, because finding any funding is extremely challenging.
The village hasn’t said, definitively, that it won’t demolish the property, either. And, there is also chatter about the village expanding its campus or adding a parking lot, at a later date.
Gillian mentioned that might be able to secure a grant from Cook County to pay for the demolition costs, which could total $20,000 to $40,000. But Calderone said the village probably won’t pursue grant money to tear it down, a plan Schwebl can likely warm up to.
“I do feel that that property is repairable,” Schwebl said. “I think it would sinful to tear it down.”
“I know we need parking … [but] there are better uses,” he said. “That’s a solid building.”
Calderone said he, for one, is in no hurry to act on anything immediately.
“What’s the rush?” he told his colleagues on the village council.