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Tinley Park's park district shows interest in buying former mental health center, property long coveted by the village

The SouthtownStar - 11/15/2022

Nov. 15—Tinley Park's park district is interested in buying the former Tinley Park Mental Health Center and adjacent Howe Developmental Center, property the village has long eyed for acquisition and redevelopment.

Park Board members, at a special meeting Monday, directed the district's newly hired law firm to notify the Illinois Department of Central Management Services of the park district's interest in acquiring the state-owned land.

Tinley Park has also been in negotiations with the state to acquire the 280-acre site, northwest of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street.

Village officials said they were caught off guard by the move, and contended Tinley Park had already invested resources in trying to buy the site and hire consultants. Village officials previously said they had a tentative deal with the state to buy the property for $4.5 million.

Tinley Park village manager Pat Carr said park district officials have never brought up any interest in the property.

The property had once been eyed for development as a combination harness racing track and casino.

Mayor Mike Glotz said plans being considered by the village for redevelopment, including a sports complex, could bring $7 million to $10 million annually in tax revenue for Tinley Park.

"We have to get the property together as a town," Glotz said.

Glotz also said the site isn't zoned to allow for a park or other recreational use, which the village would have to change. The property is now zoned for uses such as offices and light industrial.

"You can't do anything with the property anyway," he told Park Board members.

The state put out notice of surplus properties, including the mental health hospital, at the end of October, giving interested buyers until the end of November to indicate their interest.

The village sent its notice of interest Nov. 3, said Paul O'Grady, the village's attorney.

Park Board member Lisa O'Donovan said the district is "moving forward with exploring our options" regarding the site.

"Our hope is to build a partnership with the village," she said.

The park district has not had any talks with the state about a purchase price and asked in January to meet with village officials about the property but did not receive a response, said Bernie O'Boyle, the board's vice president.

O'Boyle acted as board president for the meeting due to the absence of President Marie Ryan.

Shawn Roby, the park district's executive director, said the park district isn't committing itself to buying the property, and that it is just exploratory at this point.

"The board is showing interest in it," Roby said.

He said that the park district wants to work in partnership with the village on any plans.

"As we continue to navigate this we will have discussions on what that will look like," he said. "We want to build something the taxpayers want."

The ultimate goal of redeveloping the site carries a multimillion-dollar price tag to remedy environmental hazards on the property. The village has cited environmental problems such as tainted soil, underground storage tanks, asbestos and black mold. There would also be costs to demolish dozens of buildings.

An estimate made several years ago put the cost at remediating the site's environmental issues and razing dozens of buildings at $12.4 million, but village officials suspect that cost has increased.

The site is in a tax increment financing district, and property tax revenue generated in the district through redevelopment could be used to pay for those site preparation costs.

Earlier this month, the Park Board approved two bond sales totaling $2.1 million, with the proceeds being used to pay for park land acquisition, although it did not specify the state-owned site.

Before the action on the state property, the Park Board fired its lawyers, Peterson, Johnson & Murray, which is the village's primary law firm.

Tinley Park has another firm, the Del Galdo Law Group, to represent it in negotiations regarding the state property, according to Glotz.

Park Board members named Odelson, Sterk, Murphey, Frazier & McGrath as its new firm.

The Park Board could have voted on the possible land purchase at its regularly scheduled meeting this Wednesday and still fallen within the Nov. 30 deadline to convey its interest to the state.

Burt Odelson, a principal with Odelson, Sterk, said Monday's special meeting was needed in order to approve the switching of the law firms before Wednesday's meeting.

Nancy O'Connor, Tinley Park's village clerk and longtime advocate of pushing the state to clean up the mental health center property, questioned the board at length about its plans for the site and officials' knowledge of the environmental troubles.

O'Connor questioned whether the park district, short of a big tax increase on property owners, had the financial resources to buy and remediate the property.

"You do not have close to what you need," she said.

Park Board members did not respond to questions.

Carr said Tuesday that Roby did contact him in January about arranging a meeting to discuss the mental health center property. Carr said he told Roby that it didn't make sense to meet until the village had acquired the site.

Carr said that the village is looking to a private developer to build a sports complex on the property, but that a portion of the site would also be earmarked for a municipal campus, with Village Hall and the Public Works Department moving to space.

The village wants to see commercial development using much of the land.

"We want revenue-generating businesses on that site," Carr said.

In 2015, Tinley Park planned to pay the state its asking price of $4.16 million for the property, but backed away from the purchase. In May 2019, the state offered to sell it to the village for $4.5 million, and the village indicated it was agreeable but negotiations did not proceed.

One proposal for redevelopment included more than 400 single-family homes described as active-adult, age-restricted housing targeting buyers 55 and older, as well as a 200-unit luxury senior apartment building.

Village officials have said they don't see housing as the ideal use of the property, preferring entertainment options that could generate substantial property tax and sales tax revenue to complement Tinley Park's outdoor music theater, the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre.


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