Funding from the state of Illinois will allow Forest Park to demolish four abandoned buildings on the village-owned Altenheim property, Mayor Rory Hoskins announced at the June 10 village council meeting.
Hoskins explained that the funding is included in the $40 billion state budget approved by the General Assembly earlier this month.
He said village officials “were working hard to obtain” the funding, directly lobbying state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), whose districts include Forest Park. Hoskins thanked Welch and Lightford for their efforts.
With the funding, the village will be able to demolish the chapel and three other buildings on the Altenheim property at Madison and Van Buren streets as well as cover asbestos abatement costs.
Hoskins said village officials would start working on the project as quickly as possible with demolition “under way in earnest” in the fall.
Village officials have been especially concerned for years about the possible collapse of the chapel. The village bought the 11-acre property for $3.6 million in 2001. Over the years, several ideas for development, including from Fenwick High School and the West Cook YMCA, were eventually scrapped. More recently, village officials have discussed creating a cultural park on the property.
Following demolition, the area will become a grassy area.
Last year and in 2017, efforts to obtain Cook County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to demolish the chapel were unsuccessful.
Hoskins explained that the state legislature’s approach to funding capital projects made it difficult to track progress of the village’s request.
The Forest Park project is considered a “vertical” project as opposed to a “horizontal” project in the legislature’s capital project terminology, he noted. Horizontal projects include projects such as bridges and roads whereas vertical projects include construction of buildings or, in Forest Park’s case, demolition.
In this year’s budget, horizontal projects are funded through a combination of the increase in the state gasoline tax; increases in vehicle registration fees, especially for electric vehicles; and a variety of other miscellaneous fees.
Vertical projects are funded by legalized sports betting and expansion of casino gambling; the increase in cigarette taxes; new taxes on parking fees; and extending the state sales tax to purchases made remotely, including online purchases from out-of-state retailers that do not have a brick-and-mortar nexus in Illinois.
That meant Forest Park’s hopes for funding were pinned to different pieces of legislation with varying chances of passage.
Hoskins said he did not know for sure the funding was secured until he saw Welch the evening of June 5.
“He said, ‘Mr. Mayor, it’s official,'” Hoskins recalled.
Village officials expressed concerns previously about the condition of the Altenheim buildings, especially the chapel, the condition of which has continued to deteriorate.
In the application for CBDG funding last year, village officials cited holes in the roof and bricks falling from the building and expressed “serious concern” that the building might collapse if it is not demolished.
The village has installed concrete jersey barriers to protect pedestrians from the falling debris as a temporary measure. However, its proximity to public space used for community events such as the Forest Park Ribfest and use of the parking lot at those times was termed a safety hazard.