Matt Walsh started his term as a park board commissioner on May 2.JEAN LOTUS/Staff

After a three-plus year wait, the Park District of Forest Park finally announced it had acquired the Roos property, 7329 Harrison St. The final price was $499,000, well short of the $1.3 million the parks were prepared to offer just three years ago. The purchase was announced by Director Larry Piekarz at Thursday’s park board meeting.

Newly elected board President Roy Sansone said the board would “take the project back to the residents of Forest Park” to refine how residents want to use the property.

When the district initially proposed the buy, the plans for the structure included a teen program center, a preschool facility, a fitness room, multi-purpose classrooms, camp programs and a party room, along with offices and rooms to serve as headquarters for the West Suburban Special Recreation Association. There was also talk of demolition of part of the property to allow for construction of a gymnasium.

The building will require a structural evaluation to see if the Harrison Street portion of the building can be renovated at all, after being exposed to the elements for three years.

Price fell as economy flattened

The park’s first interest in the Roos began in late 2009 when developer Alex Troyanovsky went bust, after taking out a $15 million loan from Amcorp Bank to buy the property and develop 70 condos inside the 91-year-old Edward Roos cedar chest factory. The developers also planned to build 28 townhouses next to the factory.

But the housing economy rapidly deteriorated, the developers went broke, the building sat vacant, its windows smashed by local vandals, floors and walls becoming less sound as time progressed.

In 2010, the park district successfully proposed a referendum asking voters to pay an additional 12 cents for every $100 of assessed value to support what was then estimated to be a $6 million purchase and renovation project.

The park district made a written bid for the property in 2010 at $1.3 million. But bank red tape and the bankruptcy of one partner in the original development team kept the parcel from being available for sale. As the foreclosure process dragged on over the years, Amcorp Bank also ran into substantial financial issues and in April 2010 that bank was closed by the FDIC and its assets transferred to what is now BMO Harris Bank. BMO Harris had the property on its books for $4.5 million, but finally auctioned it in foreclosure proceedings last week. The park district ultimately acquired the building for $499,000.

But conditions of the existing building will determine how the park district proceeds, which is why the board is recommending revisiting local focus groups to talk about possible uses.

Rehab of the front half of the building looks less and less feasible as the structure has deteriorated. The district had initially hoped to have a head start on the project by renovating the three-story building into classrooms, workout rooms and office space. Now those plans may be on hold, depending on how far gone the structure has become.

Walsh seated on park board

Also at the meeting, 20-year-old Commissioner Matt Walsh was sworn in as a new board member, to applause of family members and friends. Board Member Sam Alonzo Sr. stepped down.

“I feel good,” said Alonzo, whose term coincided with the negotiation and purchase of the parcel. “I’m glad we got the Roos.”

Walsh campaigned on building a gym as part of the Roos complex, encouraging the board to reach across town boundaries and try to develop regional area amateur sports leagues, especially in basketball. During the campaign, Walsh said the park should focus on activities for teenagers and that some teens enjoyed sports, but didn’t play in high school. Walsh said he believed there would be interest from Oak Park and River Forest teens to play park district league sports that were less competitive and time consuming than high school sports.

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...

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