An intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the village of Forest Park, which must be signed before the $750,000 grant money is released for the demolition of several decrepit buildings on the Altenheim property, is being reviewed by the village attorney and engineer. It will go to the village council for approval at the Jan. 11 meeting.
The agreement relates to the 11 acres of village owned property south of Madison Street.
According to Village Administrator Tim Gillian, the IGA is a “fairly voluminous document,” including sections about the demolition that the village engineer, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, needs to look at. An attorney’s eyes on the document are also important, said Gillian.
Within the document is a section referring to future use of the land post-demolition, which states that the village “will prepare the site for a future mix-use that will consist of residential, commercial, and green space, to be paid via other funding sources.”
But there is no stipulation regarding how much acreage must be allocated on any of those aforementioned uses.
“Nothing binds us to any certain use for any percentage of the land,” Gillian said. “If the village leaders determine through whatever mechanism they use that it will be 75 percent green space, for example, that’s what it will be.”
Mayor Rory Hoskins has supported development of at least a part of the property since he ran for office, stating during the mayoral campaign that he thought keeping approximately five acres of the 11-acre property green, while considering development of the rest, would be ideal.
The $750,000 state grant was the result of initial conversations between Hoskins and legislators in Springfield with whom he spoke not long after his election about the village’s need to demolish the derelict buildings. These individuals included Illinois State Rep. Chris Welch, Acting Director of the DCEO Erin Guthrie, Illinois State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and members of Sen. Don Harmon’s staff.
He impressed upon them that the buildings pose a safety hazard. But he also discussed the possibility of future economic development on a part of the property. He put forth the idea of a Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which could include residential and commercial uses and would potentially generate property tax revenue, increase traffic to existing businesses and restaurants during construction, create jobs, and further expand Forest Park’s economic base.
“This is an economic development grant,” Hoskins said this week. “The state does expect some job creation.”
He reiterated the fact that he has never pushed for and certainly doesn’t want to see the entire 11 acres developed.
“I’m open to compromise,” Hoskins said. “It doesn’t have to be all developed. That’s crazy.”
Like Gillian, Hoskins said language in the IGA doesn’t specify what acreage should or must be developed. And the term “prepare the site” means simply removing all debris, grading and seeding it, said Steve Glinke, head of the Department of Public Health and Safety.
Contingencies on use of land in exchange for grant money aren’t unusual. In fact, a 2018 Community Development Block Grant Capital Improvement/Demolition grant application, submitted under former Mayor Tony Calderone’s administration but ultimately not awarded, was made by the village for demolition of the chapel on the Altenheim property. In that grant application, the safety concerns are cited first, but plans for future development are mentioned.
Hoskins said he wants to release a request for proposal (RFP), providing developers the opportunity to come up with plans the village can accept or reject.
“It’s common, in a town like Forest Park, which is a sought-after location, to leave it to the markets to determine what’s feasible,” Hoskins said. “We can let the markets determine the use and come to us with a fair offer.”
The RFP can specify what percentage of the land the village wants developed and can contain requirements about keeping spaces green or developing community outdoor use. The village has begun talking to its contracted planner about developing an RFP. Hoskins said he plans to ask the four commissioners for a list of amenities they’d like to see on the Altenheim space.
“A sledding hill has been mentioned before,” Hoskins said. And he himself likes the idea of a Peace Garden, similar to the one in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. “We could have a pond, stocked with decorative goldfish. There are a lot of possibilities,” Hoskins said.
On Dec. 16, notice of the demolition project was listed in construction trade magazines, said Gillian. Bids will be opened and read on Jan. 13. The project will be awarded to the lowest bidder at the Jan. 25 village council meeting.
It was able to go out to bid so quickly after the IGA arrived because, at a June 22 village council meeting, the mayor and commissioners voted unanimously to approve project specifications and contract documents in order to authorize advertising of bids as soon as funds were available.
Gillian also said he’s heard word about another potential freeze on grants from the state. “We’re hoping that doesn’t happen,” he said.