A new Cook County land bank initiative may be the key to the Park District of Forest Park’s purchase of the Roos building, or at least push the sale along, commissioners discussed at the June 21 park board meeting.

On June 19, the Cook County board announced an advisory committee to look into creating a county land bank that would assist with the purchase of foreclosed, dilapidated and tax-delinquent private and commercial properties county-wide. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the need for a land bank at the “2012 Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference,” according to the county’s website.

The committee at first will look at properties for a pilot program in south suburban Cook County, facilitated by the South Suburban Mayor’s and Manager’s Association, the website said. But, working with the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development, the county hopes to get a county-wide process going whereby land and property are acquired via transfers from government, banks, or lending institutions, direct purchase, or no cash bids at scavenger sales.

The county seeks members for the committee who include public officials, the Cook County state’s attorney, regional planners, real estate professionals and affordable housing developers. The county specifically does not want any bankers on the committee, according to reports in the Chicago Tribune.

The park board decided Thursday that Commissioner Cathleen McDermott will approach the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development and look into joining the committee. If the advisory committee passes the Cook County board, they have 60 days to name members of the committee.

The proposed county land bank could take advantage of the more than 85,000 foreclosures and bank owned-properties now on the tax rolls. According to the county’s press release, the land bank would hold and manage the properties for one to four years.

“The land bank will manage the vacant and abandoned properties with the goal of making them more marketable and prepare them for transfer to responsible owners,” said Preckwinkle. “Many land banks have the authority to abate delinquent taxes, clear title, remediate nuisances, and demolish dangerous buildings.”

Other counties across the country have come up with similar banks including in Cleveland, Detroit, Flint, Mich., Minneapolis/St. Paul. According to the Chicago Tribune, there are more than 80 land banks nationally.

While in the planning stages, park district officials hope by making connections with the land bank early, they could partner with the county to assist in the purchase of the Roos property, said Larry Piekarz, park district executive director.

The dilapidated Roos factory, 7329 Harrison St., a former producer of cedar chests and other wooden furniture, has been on the park district wish list for several years. The plan is to demolish the Circle Avenue portion of the building and restore the Harrison side, creating three floors of 7,000 square feet each for a teen center, a senior center, fitness rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms and a preschool. A tax referendum was passed in 2010 to allow the district to collect enough annual property tax revenue to prove its ability to pay back the sale of up to $7 million in municipal bonds to investors.

Commissioners at the June 21 meeting agreed to contact U.S. Congressman Danny Davis, and speak to Illinois State Reps Kimberly Lightford and LaShawn K. Ford to try to offer their services to the committee.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...