For $1, Tinley Park District Could Soon Own Mental Health Center Land

TINLEY PARK, IL — After months of contention between two Tinley Park public entities, the much-coveted Tinley Park Mental Health Center campus and Howe Developmental Center could soon be in the hands of the Tinley Park-Park District—at a price of just $1—following the advancement of a piece of legislation Friday.

Backed by Sen. Mike Hastings (D-Frankfort), House Bill 3743 would grant ownership of the 280-acre campus and adjacent Howe Development Center to the park district, as written into an amendment to the bill declaring September as Alopecia Awareness Month.

Hastings promoted the amendment, pushing the park district’s ownership of the property at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue “as something [he] believes will revive the community.”

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Tinley Park-Park District’s officials are invigorated by the legislation.

“We are excited to hear about legislation supporting the Park District’s vision for the vacant land and hope for the General Assembly’s support of our plan to finally move forward with the vacant property, clean it up, and redevelop the site,” the board of commissioners said in a prepared statement. “After years of inaction, we are thrilled with the prospect of turning the site into a recreational and athletic hub for the entire southland region to enjoy.”

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Tinley Park Mayor Michael Glotz and Village Manager Pat Carr called the move “disappointing” in light of the Village’s more than decade-long quest to acquire the property.

“To say we’re disappointed is an understatement,” Carr said. “We’ve been working on this for 12 years, spent millions of dollars on it.”

The legislation is the latest chess move in a months-long process following the state’s listing the vacant land and buildings among its surplus property in October 2022. By listing it, the state opened the acquisition process to all interested parties.

Among those vying for it, were the park district and the Village of Tinley Park, both as sole entities. The park district’s bid shocked the Village, triggering what many have seen as an increasingly contentious relationship between the two. The resulting tension has led to cancelation of traditions, negation of handshake agreements and intergovernmental agreements, and harsh criticism from the community.

The surplus property process was a catalyst for Hastings’ push for the legislation, Glotz said. In presenting the amendment, Hastings claimed the Village had not followed the steps of the process, and had not properly filed its interest in the property with the Department of Central Management Services, the body responsible for the state’s surplus properties.

Glotz called that “an absolute lie,” and provided Patch digital proof of an email of declared interest, dated Nov. 7, 2022.

“To blatantly say that we didn’t do our jobs,” Glotz said, “is just wrong.”

‘It’s so disheartening’

The Village’s attempts to acquire the property date back years, with its most recent attempt to buy it at a price tag of $4.5 million rejected in February 2022. Officials had hopes of using portions of the land in different ways, in part for a sportsplex and multi-purpose athletic fields, and also to centralize all Village resources, moving Village Hall, the police department and more to one location, Glotz said.

In a renewed pitch to acquire the land, Village officials in March laid out to the state updated plans and letters of support for their vision for the hotly contested acreage. The vision included a sports complex, indoor sports facility and ice rink, entertainment center, transit-oriented apartments and townhomes, multi-use trail and expanded wetlands.

The property has no existing infrastructure, officials said, and needs an estimated $15 million in remediation due to “asbestos-filled buildings, soccer fields atop toxic waste, leaking transformers, landfill areas, and drums of waste materials, potentially hazardous liquids, as well as debris areas,” according to a report from an environmental agency. Officials set in place a tax incremental funding—known as a TIF—to help offset the cost of cleanup by future revenues brought in.

The park district in December gave a glimpse of its plans for the property, which would include a sports dome, hub of athletic fields, track and field facilities and open recreational space—plans they say received praise from more than a dozen legislators and public officials.

In its detailed pitch to the state in March, the Village contended it, too, had support from many in its plight for the property, largely labor unions and organizations relevant to the redevelopment of the property. Rep. Tim Ozinga (R-Mokena) in March made a push for legislation that would convey the land to the Village.

Carr said he has maintained consistent contact with the Department of Central Management Services regarding the state’s process and the future of the land, from the time of its listing as surplus property.

“We sent a letter three days after the surplus property declaration,” Carr said, of the Village declaring its interest. “From that point, there was active communication.”

On Monday, Carr and Glotz appeared blindsided by the recent legislation. Carr had recently spoken with the department, who told him there had been no movement in the acquisition process.

“As recently as 2 weeks ago, we were talking to CMS and they told us nothing was going on,” Carr said. “It’s sort of a surprise. We are disappointed by it.”

Also of concern to Glotz and Carr, they said, is the $1 price tag set in the amendment. That number ignores key guidance surrounding surplus property, Glotz said, namely, the State Property Control Act.

The act states that surplus property should not be “conveyed” or sold at less than fair market value, unless otherwise determined and disclosed in writing. A property assessment conducted by CMS in 2019 valued the acreage at $4.5 million. The Tinley Park-Park District did not have its own appraisal done.

Glotz claims Hastings “just circumvented” all guidelines for surplus property.

Online records show the amendment was brought to the Senate floor May 19, and the Senate voted that same day. The bill’s chief sponsor was also changed that day, to Rep. Bob Rita.

Glotz appeared frustrated and disappointment by the chain of events.

“They just circumvented all of it,” Glotz said. “You have a surplus property act—all the rules and procedures they have to follow, so there are none of these shenanigans going on between legislators … They circumvented all of the requirements, only for the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.”

Carr echoed Glotz’s disappointment in the process.

“It’s so disheartening,” he said.

Glotz said it’s not about who gets the land, but the investment Village officials have made in pursuit of it.

“We’re upset about the 12 years of staff time, and dollars we’ve spent,” Glotz said. “Every time they (the state) moved the goal post for us, we adapted.

“What’s upsetting to us, is the route they took to circumvent the process that should be followed to prevent corruption in our state.”

Village officials said last year they’d always hoped to first acquire the property, then work with agencies such as the park district to flesh out plans for it.

“At the end of the day, we control the zoning for it,” Carr said. “They’re going to have to come to us to discuss what their options are.”

The amended legislation will need to go back before the House, ultimately also requiring Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature.

This story is developing.

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