Municipal leaders in Forest Park are eying a failed condo and townhouse development as an ideal place to expand the village’s 12-acre Station Park. But first voters must approve the plan in a referendum scheduled for next spring.
In May, Amcore Bank began foreclosure on the Des Plaines–based developers of Roos Homes, which was to have put 70 new condos inside the 91-year-old Edward Roos cedar chest factory in Forest Park. The developers also planned to build 28 townhouses next to the factory, which is situated at the northwest corner of Harrison Street and Circle Avenue.
Within days of Amcore’s action, Larry Piekarz, the executive director of the Forest Park park district, began cultivating support for a plan to buy the property and incorporate it into Station Park, which lies immediately west of the old factory and stretches for four blocks along Harrison Street. “We have a beautiful park, and it’s right next door to this blighted property,” Piekarz says. “It’s the last chance for new green space in Forest Park.”
Next March, voters in the suburb will decide the fate of the property in a referendum. In the meantime, Piekarz and other municipal officials are busily trying to make plans for the property, while cultivating support among local, state, and national officials. They also need to determine the precise cost of acquiring and converting the property.
The developers, Regency Development Group—which did not return my calls—had bought the land for about $3 million in 2007, Piekarz says. “I don’t believe that property will sell for $3 million to anybody anymore,” adds Anthony Calderone, Forest Park’s mayor. Piekarz adds that Amcore officials—and even the foreclosed developer, Alex Troyanovsky—have signaled that they would like the property to become parkland. And Piekarz fully expects the property to still be available next spring. “They don’t have people rushing over to try and buy it,” he says. “They will still have it in March.”
Piekarz and Calderone are reluctant to make any firm plans about what the village might do with the property should residents approve its purchase. “I’m a believer that you don’t have to have all those answers today,” says Calderone. “You want to have that land in your park, and then decide what the sentiment is for how to use it.”
Given such open-ended plans, tabulating the total cost of any park expansion—which would include not only the purchase price of the property, but also any demolition, improvements, or new construction costs—is a tough call, though clearly it would be a multimillion-dollar project. Since future generations would benefit from any expansion, Calderone suggests any funding plan should be spread out over as many years as possible. Because the village has a larger bonding authority than the park district, it would likely be asked to participate in the funding plan.
Piekarz acknowledges that, given the state of the economy, this may not be the best time to ask local residents to support a tax increase to pay for the expansion. Still, he is hoping to make a convincing case for the purchase. “Now is our chance,” he says.
Piekarz notes that the main building at Station Park, a handsome Tudor structure designed and built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, was itself a source of controversy. “People thought it was wrong to spend that kind of money during the Great Depression,” Piekarz says. “But it happened, and look what we have today.” He’s hoping for a similar outcome this time around.