Plans for the vacant Borg Warner industrial property in Frankfort are still in flux a year after a nonbinding referendum in which residents supported turning the property into a community center as part of the Frankfort Park District.
The park district had hoped to purchase the 229,000-square-feet building and 25-acre property, but according to executive director Gina Hassett said the property might have another buyer at the price of nearly $8 million, although she has not been able to confirm.
Frankfort village administrator Rob Piscia said he has not heard anything about a buyer. The property, at 300 Maple St., sits among residential areas and park district land which, over time, has caused grief with residents due to the number of trucks and eighteen-wheeler traffic in the area.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think we could possibly lose this to an industrial buyer,” Hassett said. “The referendum passed with 56% of voters in support of the park district looking at this idea further. But now we are just sitting and waiting to see what happens with the sale.”
Borg Warner announced in 2020 the plant would shut down at the end of 2021. Hassett said the park district and village immediately began thinking about what would become of the property.
“Sometimes these properties sit vacant for years,” Hassett said. “So the park district started considering the property for a community center. But the district doesn’t have the funds for the purchase, so we were hoping the village would be able to buy it and hold it for us until a binding referendum passed.”
The property was rezoned as R-4 residential, Piscia said, but another industrial user could go in there as an existing, nonconforming use, with conditions.
“They would not be able to expand operations or do major changes to the building under the nonconforming use,” Piscia said.
Also in question is the use of a baseball field on the property, which Borg Warner has allowed the park district to use for years. Hassett said use of that field has been extended through the end of 2022.
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Hassett said another good scenario for the park district is if the property were bought by a housing developer. She says there is growing demand for housing, and thanks to the village’s land cash ordinance, the park district, school district and others would benefit financially.
“If a community has a land cash ordinance, when a developer gives them a site plan for a subdivision, they have to allocate to taxing bodies they are affecting. If they build homes, the school gets cash, the library gets cash, impacts our use going forward.”
Hassett said the value isn’t in the 25 acres of land, it’s in the building itself. As far as park district potential, Hassett thinks the building would suit the park district’s needs.
“We don’t have an indoor pool here in Frankfort,” Hassett said. “Our residents are having to go elsewhere. I think an indoor pool for the community would be great, especially in the winter. The closest indoor pool is in Tinley Park, but then again, with an indoor pool our taxes would go up. So there would be a lot to consider.”
The Borg Warner building is also double the size of most community centers, even with an indoor pool, so any renovations to the building would come at a steep cost.
But none of this happens if the building is sold to an industrial buyer, or if the price point can’t come down to align with park district and village finances. For now, Hassett said they are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens.
Hannah Kohut is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.