Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone had a one-on-one meeting with a representative from Fenwick High School at village hall two weeks ago to touch base on a letter of intent sent by the private Oak Park high school May 15. That letter did not specify a purchase price but served as an offer to purchase the village-owned Altenheim property. But the mayor and Village Administrator Tim Gillian insist that the meeting was brief and that Fenwick was told the village was not yet in the market to sell the parcel.
“I told them thanks for your letter of intent,” Calderone said. “But we’re going to wait until we get the [new] comprehensive plan underway and allow stakeholders to voice an opinion.”
He added, “They didn’t know our posture has changed. I told them, ‘It’s on hold until you hear from us otherwise.'”
Gillian agreed. “It was a courtesy call from [Fenwick Vice President] R.J. McMahon just to show up in person and show him the letter and ask if he had any questions about it.” Gillian said no moves on the property would be made until a resident survey, completed by an as-yet-unhired consultant company, was complete.
The letter of intent from Fenwick, which was obtained by the Forest Park Review, does not contain a purchase price offer, but does refer to two property appraisals. The high appraisal was $2.2 million and the low appraisal was $1.2 million.
If Fenwick officially offered either amount it would be a low-ball offer. The village bought the parcel from the Altenheim senior residences in 2001 for $3.2 million. In 2006, when the West Cook YMCA was negotiating to buy a portion of the parcel, the land was appraised at $5.3 million. The Y offered $4.6 million, which the village accepted, but the deal fell through.
“We remain firm on the price we paid for the property,” said Calderone. “We’re not underwater and we can continue paying for this property.”
“I understand the market is not what it was when we purchased [the property],” he said. “That’s purely a [Fenwick] negotiation strategy. We don’t have to accept that strategy.”
The letter from Fenwick outlines a plan to build facilities up to and including athletic fields, grandstands, lights for night use, electronic scoreboard and ancillary buildings and improvements necessary for its “intended immediate and future use.” The letter says that the proposed offer is contingent on Forest Park establishing a Planned Unit Development for the project and guaranteeing zoning variances favorable to the project.
The letter of intent also calls for the village to demolish and remove all outbuildings in the 8.78 acre parcel at the seller’s cost, and to pay for all environmental cleanup. The letter asks for all utility lines on the parcel to be relocated and asks the village to pay the expenses that may occur when Fenwick hooks up to sewers at the property lines. The plan is also contingent on a sharing agreement with the CTA for the north commuter parking lot on Van Buren.
It is typical for an offer to be weighted toward the seller, said Calderone. “That’s what negotiations are for.”
If the village was interested in selling the parcel, Calderone is to be the sole negotiator for the property, by village ordinance. The board voted 4 to 1 in March, 2010 to appoint the mayor sole negotiator in the sale of the Altenheim property. The nay vote was by former Public Properties Commissioner Marty Tellalian who threatened at the time to report closed-session discussions to sell the Altenheim property to the Illinois attorney general’s public access counselor saying it violated Open Meetings law. Tellalian lost in a race against Calderone for mayor in 2011.
Chris Harris, who took Tellalian’s seat as Public Property commissioner, held a town hall Feb. 23 on the Altenheim during which he suggested the land be used for a sculpture garden. Harris said he found out about the recent meeting between Fenwick and Calderone from representatives at the school.
“I knew a formal offer was coming,” Harris said. “I think Fenwick’s interest accelerated after the town hall and when [Purple Leaf Farm] was allowed to plant on the property. I believe that spurred [Fenwick] on.”