It looks like the Park will be growing across Harrison Street.
On March 3 the Forest Park park board unanimously approved an agreement to pay $1.25 million to purchase the property at 7400-7412 Harrison St., just across from the district’s tennis courts. That site currently houses the former Pines Restaurant and Oak Leaf Lounge as well as the still operating Forest Park Foreign Car Repair shop. The sale is expected to close in about six weeks.
The sale to the park district comes after failed attempts to develop the nearly two-thirds of an acre property into an apartment building.
“We tried our best but the neighborhood didn’t appreciate it so we’re not disappointed,” said Tony Kaldis, who has co-owned the property with Tim Loucopoulos for the last 15 years. “It’s time for us to move on and do something else and let them have a park there.”
After seeing neighborhood opposition sink the proposed apartment building project park district staff began thinking about trying to buy the property. The park district wants to build a building there to house its day camp program and other programs.
“We found an opportunity at this time so we kind of took advantage of a time when they were not sure what they were going to do with it,” said Jackie Iovinelli, the executive director of the park district.
“We’re lacking indoor space and we’re lacking outdoor space that we can build on. Why take away our open space when we can build across the street,” she said.
Iovinelli said the park district needs more space for its day camp program which is now housed in a cramped little building that was built for storage.
“We have a day camp building that the kids don’t fit in anymore,” Iovinelli said. “Most importantly, what drives this is our day camp program.”
The park district will pay for the purchase out of its reserve funds so the land purchase will not result in any increase in taxes.
Iovinelli said the park district would tear down the now shuttered buildings that once housed the Pines Restaurant and the Oak Leaf Lounge and then look to build a new building for the park district’s day camp and other programs.
“Within the next six months the goal is to get it torn down, cleaned up and then over the next year or so find money so it’s going to be sometime before we see anything,” Iovinelli said.
The park district has spoken with the West Suburban Special Recreation Association about creating a partnership with the special education co-op and perhaps renting space in the new building.
It will take some time to come up with a plan for a new building. Iovinelli said she will talk to architects after the deal closes and the park district actually owns the property.
“Our goal is to find as many grants as possible,” Iovinelli said.
She said she didn’t know how large a building the park district would build.
“We’re going to maximize the space because you don’t want to underbuild,” Iovinelli said.
The Forest Park Foreign Car Repair rents its property on a month-to-month lease so it is not clear how long it will be able to operate at its current location once the park district owns the property.
“We’re going to see what the park district is going to say,” said Foreign Car Repair owner Vladimir Rejman who founded his car repair shop in 1978 at its present location.
Iovinelli said that once the deal closes and the park district owns the property she will sit down with Rejman and discuss the future.
“We will be a good neighbor,” Iovinelli said.
The park district could also be interested in purchasing the property at 805 Hannah where H and R Auto Repair is located just south of the Foreign Car Repair shop. The 805 Hannah property is not owned by Kaldis and Loucopoulos.
“It depends on price,” Iovinelli said of the park’s interest in the H and R Auto Repair property. “Obviously right now we’ll still have to build. We’ll see what the price is, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there if that is even something that they would even be interested in. The table’s open if they want to come sit at the table.”
The purchase will eventually clean up and improve what some have considered a dilapidated and contentious property as the Pines and Oak Leaf Lounge have been shuttered for about five years.
“This will certainly be a welcome change for that corner,” said Tim Gillian, a new park board member and former village administrator. As administrator Gillian dealt with neighbor complaints about the latter-day uses of the property as an entertainment venue.
Iovinelli said the purchase is a win for everyone.
“We’re excited, we’re excited to see the growth,” Iovinelli said. “Since we’re coming out of Covid our programs have been bursting at the seams. We advertise a program and it’s full. We just need more space to offer the services to the community and the other thing is we need to clean up a dilapidated space over here for the community.”