Members of the Park District of Forest Park said, last week, that they are frustrated as anyone, with the slow pace of an attempt to purchase the neighboring Roos property. In fact, that frustration prompted the park district to hold a town hall meeting last Thursday, at the park district’s campus.
The get-together was held, in part, to keep folks abreast as to what’s happening with the pending deal, but also to encourage the public to put pressure on Harris Bank. The bank holds the mortgage to the building, and is sluggishly sorting out legal issues with an LLC owned, in part, by a developer who tried, unsuccessfully, to reconstruct the Roos.
Negotiations to purchase the property have been in limbo for the last 18 months. In February, 2010 Forest Park voters approved a referendum to raise their property taxes by 12 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation to raise money for the purchase of the Roos property. But progress on buying the property came to an abrupt halt in March 2010, when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) shut down Rockford based Amcore Bank and transferred its assets, including the mortgage on the Roos property, to Harris Bank.
“We’ve stepped into a rather tangled web of legal relationships that we’re trying to untangle,” said Michael Polachek, a lawyer who is representing the park district in the matter, at last week’s meeting.
Harris is attempting to foreclose on the current owners, Forest Park LLC, of which failed developer Alex Troyanovsky is a partner. The foreclosure was filed by Amcore, back in March of 2009, after the developers attempt to build loft condominiums and town houses halted when the housing market crashed.
At the meeting, which was attended by 13 people, Polachek said that the park district had an agreement in place with Amcore to purchase the property before the bank was shut down by the FDIC.
“We had a deal with Amcore Bank before they went under,” Polachek said. “We had a letter of intent. Harris told us they would honor the letter of intent.”
But that letter of intent has expired and Harris has not been willing to put anything in writing that concerns the park board.
“They keep saying they will (honor the letter of intent), but they have not been willing to put that in writing,” said Charlene Holtz, another lawyer who is representing the park district.
The foreclosure lawsuit has languished in the courts since it was filed in March 2009. The process is further complicated because another party (a partnership in California) holds a second mortgage on the property, Polachek said.
Harris is owed about $8 million on the mortgage according, Polachek said. The Forest Park Review reported last year that the park district offered to buy the property for $1.9 million. Park officials and Polachek would not comment on the price specified in the letter of intent.
Harris spokesman Patrick O’Herlihy would not answer specific questions on the issue, but noted that Harris does not yet have title to the Roos property.
Polachek said that he believes Harris is on the verge of filing some more pleadings in the foreclosure case and he hopes that the case can be completed soon.
“It’s been a long, drawn-out process,” said Polachek, conceding, “it’s not over.”
But he said he was concerned that Harris might try to sell the property at a foreclosure auction rather than honor the terms of the letter of intent that Amcore apparently had agreed to.
“Harris is somewhat cautious about selling it to us at the price we want to pay,” Polachek said.
Another concern is possible contamination below the ground. The park district has hired a consulting firm and identified some problem spots. But it either doesn’t want to, or can’t, do a detailed investigation until it owns the property, or is assured that it will be able to buy it.
Polachek and park board members say that, at times, it has been frustrating to deal with Harris,
“In my opinion, if Harris would pay attention to it, we could get this done,” Polachek said.
Cathleen McDermott, a park district board member, agreed.
“I don’t think we would have this issue if Forest Park National Bank owned the property,” said McDermott, suggesting that a community bank would be more willing to resolve the matter. “It’s all fallen on deaf ears.”
But the park district is not giving up.
“It’s very, very frustrating,” said Roy Sansone, another board member. “We haven’t given up as a board. We’re trying to move forward and purchase the property.”
Park Board President Sam Alonzo said that, now, all the park district can do is wait. “We’ll just have to wait and see as to how it proceeds in court and see what happens,” Alonzo said.
Park district officials have even reached out to Congressmen Danny Davis and Dan Lipinski in an attempt to persuade the FDIC to pressure Harris to get the deal moving.
At the open meeting, Forest Park resident Mike Thompson suggested starting a letter-writing campaign to pressure Harris Bank to take action, an idea that park officials supported.
“We think you are the solution to this problem,” Polachek told the audience.
In the meantime, the additional tax money collected from the referendum in being held in a separate account and will be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a tax abatement if the park district does not ultimately purchase the property, said Larry Piekarz, park district director.
But Sansone said that the park board is willing to look at other properties to expand.
“We’re a forward thinking board,” Sansone said.
Letters and emails can be sent to Bill Thanoukos, Harris’s Vice-President of Government Relations. His email address is email@example.com.