Posted: Jan. 13, 2023
Christmastime in Tinley Park is always a joyous season, and 2022 was no exception. While our Village elves outdid themselves, making the town merry and bright, the rest of the team continued on with the business of the Village as usual.
As we begin 2023, with all the hope and promise each new year brings, the business of the Village continues forward stronger and healthier than ever. I’d like to share some background and information on one item of business that has been and remains a top priority for my administration.
I’m referring to our plan to purchase the Tinley Park Mental Health Center (TPMHC) property from the State of Illinois and develop it into a valuable community asset. The 280-acre property is located at the northwest corner of 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue, very near the center of our village, and is by far the largest undeveloped property in the entire Southland Chicago area.
On November 1, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) issued its annual notice of State-owned surplus property, giving Illinois agencies the opportunity to state their interest in buying properties on the list. Soon after the list was issued, the Village of Tinley Park provided formal, written intent to purchase the property, as it has every year since 2012, when the TPMHC first appeared on the list.
Near the end of 2022, another local taxing agency within the Village stated its interest in the property. Given that many are not aware of the Village’s efforts over the last 10-plus years, I feel obligated to explain why the only way to ensure the public’s best interests are protected is for the Village of Tinley Park to purchase and develop the property.
A Game-Changing Vision
As I stated upfront, the 280-acre property is one of the largest undeveloped properties in the entire Chicagoland area. It is the largest and last large property in the Southland. By comparison, the former Arlington Heights Racetrack property, at 320 acres, is under contract with the Chicago Bears for a new stadium and entertainment district. While I'm not suggesting we attempt to bring the Chicago Bears to Tinley Park, it should help us all recognize that the TPMHC property is a game-changer, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build something iconic and uniquely Tinley Park. We should be inspired to dream big, not think small.
Imagine, for a moment, an expansive, mixed-use entertainment district near the Village center serving local residents, neighboring communities, and visitors from across the Midwest. Imagine a development that complements our existing treasures like the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, the Tinley Park Convention Center, our historic Downtown core, and countless other existing businesses, restaurants and hotels. A development like that would complete the puzzle and truly make Tinley Park an all-around destination to live, work and play.
Planning for an Economic Engine
While the Village of Tinley Park has been actively working to acquire the TPMHC since the State of Illinois closed the facility and declared it a surplus property, our process for developing a practical plan for the cleanup and redevelopment became more concrete about four years ago. A critical objective of that plan was to ensure the public’s health and safety while protecting Tinley Park taxpayers from the financial burden of making the property ready for redevelopment. That is still our objective. To achieve this, our plan has always required engaging private investors to clean up and redevelop the property with their own money, not the taxpayers’. As a home-rule municipality, only the Village of Tinley Park has the authority to partner with developers and ensure the financial liabilities do not fall on the taxpayers.
Under the Village’s plan, the fully developed TPMHC site becomes a powerful economic engine, generating new sources of revenue which help ensure we keep taxes low while continuing to deliver core services and regular improvements throughout the community, all while maintaining a high level of public safety. The Village can generate revenue from sources outside of your property taxes. The only way for other governmental agencies to fund the cleanup and development is to issue bonds and raise taxes, putting residents on the hook for unknown liabilities that could potentially reach tens or even hundreds of millions.
Beyond the cleanup and development costs, which will be substantial, any government agency whose plan involves owning, operating and maintaining the development of this scale would incur catastrophic pension and insurance liabilities. From the start, the Village’s plan has been designed to avoid and eliminate the need to take on these liabilities, which would fall on taxpayers.
Expertise and Experience
Another reason the public’s best interests are protected by the Village of Tinley Park purchasing the property is really quite simple - we already do everything that’s needed to develop it.
A development of any size requires certain experience and expertise, but one of this scale requires far greater understanding and coordination across many areas. For example, the TPMHC has no functional water or sewer system, roads or utilities. Most of the existing infrastructure will likely have to be removed and replaced.
A primary function of the Village of Tinley Park government is ensuring that residents have clean water to drink and functional sewer lines for sanitation. We have demonstrated expertise and experience going back decades, nearly a century of providing basic services to residents. Similarly, the Village has been planning, building and maintaining our road system even longer. All planning and zoning must go through the Village’s Community Development department. Any development that doesn’t fit the existing zoning must go through our Plan Commission and be approved by our Village Board.
In fact, by law, the Village must be involved in nearly every aspect of development, so even if we could ignore the tens of millions of dollars the cleanup will cost, it doesn’t make sense for any other government agency to take the lead on developing this property.
Funding the Cleanup
The reality is we can’t ignore the tens of millions of dollars it will cost for the environmental cleanup. Where will that money come from?
In early 2020, the State of Illinois allocated $15 million toward funding the environmental cleanup at the site. Without any notice or explanation, those funds were mysteriously re-appropriated to Bob Rita in Blue Island, sending a very clear message that the State had no intention of cleaning up the decades-old environmental disaster that it had created.
Despite this loss of funding for the cleanup, the Village still has a viable solution that no other agency has. Specifically, the Village controls a special Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, which it created several years ago as part of a well-planned strategic approach to funding the environmental cleanup.
For those unfamiliar, TIFs are one of many tools that a municipality can use to help ensure funds are available to provide critical infrastructure improvements and generate economic development that would be unlikely without direct financial assistance. The great thing about TIFs is that they help keep the financial burden of new development off the taxpayers' backs. Instead, revenue to fund the development is generated by the increased value (i.e., “the increment”) of the development itself. The developers have the incentive to create a valuable community asset at their own expense.
The Village of Tinley Park has a long and proven record of successful TIF districts, having had some of the most successful in the State. For example, the Tinley Park Convention Center was made possible through a TIF district. Without a TIF, it wouldn’t exist today, and we wouldn’t be receiving the economic benefits from it. Much of the funding for the TPMHC cleanup, the infrastructure buildout, and any potential economic incentives would be from the TIF that we had the foresight to establish years ago.
Representation and Benefit
Beyond the reasons I’ve already provided for why it makes sense for the Village to purchase and develop the TPMHC property, there is another that should be very personal to every resident of Tinley Park. We, the elected and appointed officials, and all of the Village Staff, work for and represent you, all 56,000 of you, regardless of which county, township or neighborhood you live in. All the benefits of building a powerful economic engine at the TPMHC will serve the interests of all Tinley Park residents in the form of low taxes, improved services and stronger property values. No other government agency serves the interests of the entire community. They only represent some sections of the Village and even some outside of Tinley Park.
The Village of Tinley Park has already established the means and taken proactive steps to help ensure we keep the burden off the taxpayers. Other agencies haven’t begun to figure out how to fund the cleanup and development. While they may have some ideas, it’s most likely they would simply take on more debt and increase property taxes to have any hope of generating enough funds. The reality is that only the Village of Tinley Park has the experience, the resources, the economic tools, or the zoning authority to bring about any sort of revenue-generating development on the TPMHC property.
First, We Get the Land
In closing, I’d like to clarify a few things. The Village has always welcomed others to the table regarding the Tinley Park Mental Health Center property. Over the years, many other agencies have been actively involved in discussions at a conceptual level. However, it has never been practical to move beyond conceptual discussions without actually owning the property. I’ve personally attended many of these discussions, so for anyone to say otherwise is simply false.
All of us at the Village understand the importance of working closely with other local agencies to help ensure we’re serving the best interests of the entire community, but our first priority has always been to get the land before we can take the next steps, and that will not change. The Village is fully dedicated to doing whatever it takes to get the land because we know how important it is to the continued success of our community and the 56,000 residents and well over 2,000 businesses we serve.