The former U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Center is seen on Roosevelt Road on Monday, July 25, 2022, in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The U.S. Army Reserve is looking to unload the Forest Park U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Center, 7402 Roosevelt Rd. – but the village seemingly won’t be buying it.

The Army Reserve is looking to dispose of the property through its Real Property Exchange (RPX) program, where a municipality or a private developer receives the property in exchange for covering the cost of improvements on another, still-active military property. In this case, the army asked interested bidders to submit proposals for improving water drainage at its base in north suburban Fort Sheridan. Bidders had to submit proposals by Aug. 1. During its July 25 meeting, the village council was asked to vote on whether Forest Park should submit a proposal.

But Commissioners Joe Byrnes and Maria Maxham balked, arguing that the village simply can’t afford to do the Fort Sheridan improvements, let alone mitigate the many environmental hazards the Forest Park reserve center likely comes with. Mayor Rory Hoskins and Commissioner Jessica Voogd argued that this represented a unique opportunity for the village, and that the Hannah/Roosevelt Tax Increment Financing district, as well as state and federal funding, could be used to take care of the environmental clean-up. With Commissioner Ryan Nero absent, the council deadlocked and the motion failed.

The reserve center was originally part of a group of U.S. Navy buildings built in the 1940s. Over the next few decades, the Navy relinquished control of more and more buildings, leaving the current Reserve Center in 2007. Other government entities got the first dibs on the property, and U.S. Army snapped it up. But the possibility of the property going into private hands got then-Mayor Anthony Calderone thinking about what would happen if the Army Reserves ever left the property.  

 A 2012 study commissioned by the village suggested several development options for the site including a car dealership, a mixed-use development and several variations of a commercial plaza and hotel concept. Notably, none of the concepts called for preserving the existing building. 

The presentation included Monday in the council meeting packet stated the village was planning to rehab the existing reserve center building into a new municipal building that would bring all village services under one roof. It also mentioned potential “commercial and retail opportunities.” But in a follow-up interview, Hoskins insisted this was just one of the possible options for the site, and that it would’ve been up to the council to decide on the final concept.

When asked what he would’ve preferred, Hoskins demurred.

“My preference really doesn’t matter, because we ended up deciding not to move forward,” he said.

Hoskins said Forest Park found out about the base closure only in June. The original deadline for RPX proposals was July 16, but the village was able to negotiate an extension to Aug. 1, with an understanding that no further extensions would be offered. 

Hoskins said that, to the best of his knowledge, only one other applicant – a private developer – expressed interest, but he was under the impression that it didn’t follow through. 

The packet documents don’t specify how much the village was prepared to pay toward  Fort Sheridan improvements, and Hoskins declined to share the figures, citing the fact this was something the council discussed during a July 11 closed session. But he said the village believed that the actual costs were 20% of what the Army Reserve estimated.

The Hannah/Roosevelt TIF, which had over $3.67 million as of the end of 2021, is currently scheduled to expire in 2025, but Hoskins said he would have lobbied the Illinois General Assembly for an extension, so the village could pay off the costs over an extended period of time. Hoskins also said the village was talking with the Illinois Finance Authority, a state lender, about getting funding, but the discussions didn’t get far enough along to settle on any specifics. 

During the July 25 meeting, Hoskins emphasized that simply submitting a proposal wouldn’t obligate the village to follow though, and that Forest Park would have plenty of time to do its due diligence and bring down costs before signing a deal. 

Byrnes said he was worried about the environmental clean-up costs, quoting an engineering estimate suggesting that asbestos remediation alone could cost anywhere between $533,000 and $1.6 million. Byrnes also noted that Forest Park’s credit rating dropped last year, which hurt its ability to borrow money.

“It’s the lowest it’s been since the last 15-20 years,” Byrnes said. “We’re not getting an increase of our bond rating, so I don’t know where we’re going to go for that money. We’re going to be putting us in the hole that’s deeper than we are in right now.”

Maxham said she was worried that costs could quickly spiral out of control, especially given that Forest Park didn’t have time to do a proper appraisal and has no reserves to fall back on. 

“How much do we spend before we decide enough is enough and we need to cut our losses,” she said.

Maxham also shared Byrnes’ concerns about remediation.

“In the last report we got, it was 53,300 sq. ft. of assumed asbestos,” she said. “In addition to that, there’s lead paint, an underground oil tank that may have contaminated the ground.”

Voogd said that, while she agreed that having to rush the proposal was “not ideal,” it was important to take advantage of the opening and do the proper appraisal after the village cleared that hurdle.

“Tonight, we are not closing on the new house, we’re not signing on a dotted line and committing monies without due diligence,” Voogd said. “I do see the value in this land and its potential. I think, before we get to the point where we sign on the dotted line, we would have done our due diligence. […] This, tonight, is – this is the opportunity we have right now, it may not come again.”