Park Forest Secures $1.5 Million To Remove Blight

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- More long-time vacant properties in Park Forest are scheduled to meet the wrecking ball over the next six months, dramatically changing the town’s landscape in some sections and enhancing future development possibility.

Economic Development and Planning Director Hildy Kingma announced Monday night at Park Forest’s Board Meeting a $1.5 million dollar grant award from Cook County for the demolition of four large commercial properties. The buildings, located at 3200 Lincoln Highway, 350 Main Street, 320 Wildwood Street, and the Norwood Square Shopping Center on Western Avenue, are all expected to come down by March 2013.

The four buildings planned for demolition have been vacant for an average of nine years; one, 320 Wildwood Street, vacant for close to twenty years. Village officials say the properties are the subject of many complaints of residents, hot spots for theft of building materials like copper wire, and stunt potential development.

This coup for Park Forest comes three months after a lobbying trip to Washington for Park Forest Mayor John A. Ostenburg and Manager Tom Mick, who learned of grant dollars still available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Through the HUD program, financial assistance is provided to qualifying communities suffering from foreclosure and abandonment.

Municipalities originally awarded dollars, but were unable to spend them, provided an opportunity for towns like Park Forest to apply for the unused cash. After learning of the opportunity, Kingma quickly applied for Cook County HUD assistance to demolish several Park Forest-owned vacant properties.

Park Forest received official notification of grant approval earlier this month and is required to complete the teardowns by February 28, 2013.

“This is good news. It underscores the value of some of the efforts we put in when we go to Washington on lobbying trips,” said a pleased Mayor Ostenburg at the meeting.

“We’ve now acquired a lot of outside funding to enable us to remove buildings that are blights to our community – buildings, homes and other structures – that are no longer capable of any good commercial or residential use. And when the economy turns around, that property is viable property for development, so we’re looking forward to that.”

In addition to incoming funds to demolish the four commercial properties, $150,000 will also go towards the removal of nine to 13 residential properties still yet to be identified.

Kingma credits the Village’s good reputation for efficiently spending grant dollars awarded by HUD in the past to demolish properties. In 2010, Park Forest landed HUD funds to demolish the former Marshall Field’s Building – another long-standing vacant property – which remained empty for 13 years following its 1997 closing.

Trustee Mae Brandon was one of several trustees to echo Ostenburg’s sentiments Monday evening.

“Once I heard about it, I was ecstatic. If we had to wait until we had money to do this, it would be several years down the road.  By being able to demolish these properties that are really eye sores to the community, and we get a lot of calls and questions from residents about them, that in itself is a plus.”

Demolition work could begin as soon as November 1.