The Oak Park YMCA (Randolph and Marion streets) hopes to relocate their facilities from Oak Park to Forest Park. While I’m sure many people will miss them, this also creates an opportunity to enhance our tax base. The YMCA owns three major parcels of property that will probably be sold. The first is their headquarters building at the corner of Randolph and Marion. The second is a 12-unit apartment building across the street from their headquarters. The third is a well-hidden parking lot off an alley the middle of the block bounded by Randolph, Washington, Home and Marion. Currently, the YMCA rents these parking spaces out to community residents.
The predictable solution is for the YMCA to sell their property to a private developer who builds condominiums where the current YMCA building stands and probably converts the apartment building to condominiums. The YMCA could also sell their parking lot to the village and let the village manage it as they see fit. These proceeds help fund their new home in Forest Park.
By converting the two Randolph and Marion properties from non-profit to a for-profit use, our property tax base expands. However, the community loses a gymnasium, indoor swimming pool, child care programs, community rooms, and some affordable housing that currently occupies the top two floors of the YMCA structure.
I would like to propose a different approach that may significantly expand our tax base and maintain the benefits of the current YMCA community center. This solution requires a series of cooperative actions across governmental entities as well as the YMCA. I believe this is a sound and practical solution to keeping some important services in Oak Park:
1) The YMCA still moves to Forest Park.
2) The Park District of Oak Park moves their headquarters and gymnasium from Madison Street to the vacated YMCA building. There may be room for some social service agencies as well.
3) The current park district property on Madison Street is sold to a developer and put onto the tax rolls. The use of this property would be consistent with the recently approved Madison Street corridor plan. The proceeds from this sale are used to pay the YMCA for their building at Randolph and Madison.
4) A non-profit organization applies for an IHDA grant to rehab and upgrade the housing units at the YMCA facility as well as the apartment building across the street. They become HUD compliant for affordable housing.
5) The Village of Oak Park purchases the current YMCA parking lot with the purpose of reselling it to a private parking lot developer and thereby put a second major parcel back on the property tax rolls.
While this plan is more complicated, it also offers a number of important benefits to the community. First, it significantly expands our tax base by ultimately putting two more parcels of property back on the tax rolls. Every citizen who feels they are paying too much in property taxes, benefits from this action.
Second, we focus the new development where it is needed most-on Madison Street, and not within a more residential area.
Third, it keeps an important community center alive where the park district can add an indoor pool to its services while maintaining a gymnasium.
Fourth, it expands and upgrades some badly needed affordable housing. Finally, it provides an opportunity for village government to experiment with the private ownership and operation of parking.
Clearly, a detailed financial analysis is missing as well as a better understanding of how to best use the space inside the current YMCA building. It will take the cooperative action of village government, the park district, and the YMCA to see if this type of deal makes sense.
My instinct is that it makes a lot of sense. We’re putting more and better property on the tax rolls; we’re focusing the new development in a area that could create a structure with a significant assessed value. This ultimately generates higher assessed property values and therefore more property tax receipts.
Another important impact to consider is the timing issue since the YMCA needs their money as soon as possible. The solution is some creative financing to bridge the timing differences. The Village of Oak Park, in cooperation with Oak Park Development Corporation, are well positioned to create such a bridge.
I submit that it is these types of creative solutions that may become the model for the future of Oak Park. We need to maintain vital community services while creating lower-cost ways of delivering and maintaining those services. It is also a good idea to look for new ways to put more of our tax-exempt property back on the tax rolls. This helps buffer the crushing impact of our property taxes on many residents.
We also need to elect officials with the vision and courage to seek more innovative solutions across all of our various governmental boards.