Partnership or pay? Questions arise as Oak Lawn mulls options
BY BOB RAKOW Correspondent October 11, 2012 6:46PM
Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. | File photo
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:28AM
A plan for Oak Lawn to partner with Advocate Christ Medical Center to build a senior/community wellness center on vacant property near the center of the village has sparked a debate between Mayor Dave Heilmann and some of his political opponents.
While his foes would prefer that the village collect $1.7 million in impact fees for the hospital’s expansion project, Heilmann supports a proposal that calls for the hospital to instead help fund construction of the center. It would be built on the vacant Beatty Lumber property, 9537 S. 52nd Ave., adjacent to the village’s Metra station. No cost or time line has been specified.
The building would house a new senior center, fitness center, lap pool and meeting rooms, and offer services provided by the hospital, such as nutritionists, nurses and other medical professionals.
The village had considered moving the senior center into a new bank that will be built on 95th Street, but Heilmann said a complex built in partnership with Advocate would be more beneficial to the entire community.
An Advocate clinical presence on the site also would provide a positive project for the developer and the neighborhood, Heilmann said.
Developers Tony Ruh and Karl Shea bought the property in October 2011 and proposed construction of a nine-story office tower in February.
Those who oppose the idea prefer that the hospital pay the village a $1.7 million impact fee that would help fund additional village services that will become necessary as the hospital continues its expansion.
They also contend that Heilmann met without their knowledge to discuss the plan with developers and hospital officials, an allegation Heilmann denies.
“We don’t know what was discussed,” Trustee Tom Duhig (4th) said.
Trustee Tom Phelan (6th) said Heilmann provided trustees with only a “generic concept memo” regarding the proposal two weeks before the meeting. He added that the entire board should have been invited to attend the meeting.
“I’ve never been apprised of any meetings, any developments,” Phelan said at Tuesday’s village board meeting.
Phelan also demanded to know why Dennis Brennan, an attorney and business partner of Trustee Robert Streit (3rd), attended the meeting.
“I have no idea what Dennis’ role is,” Heilmann said Wednesday. “He’s not there for the village of Oak Lawn.”
Heilmann said Phelan did not respond to his memo seeking input on the project. But in an Aug. 31 email to Heilmann, Phelan responds at length and questions the mayor about the details of a proposed partnership with Advocate.
“Are you attempting to negotiate away the seven-figure fiscal component of the hospital expansion that (village manager) Larry Deetjen recently communicated to the board he had come to preliminary agreement with Advocate on?” Phelan asked Heilmann in the email.
“For eight months, this village worked with the hospital,” Phelan said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “This board, all the while, was expecting a fiscal component.”
Heilmann said this week the senior/wellness center is simply under consideration and “the impact fee is not off the table.”
“It’s simply an idea that I thought (might) be better,” Heilmann said. “You sit in a room and say, ‘Is this a possibility?’ ”
He said the center would have a more lasting impact on the village than the impact fee.
“We’ve gone 50 years without relying on Advocate to fund our budget,” Heilmann said.
Deetjen said he continues to negotiate with the hospital for the impact fee.
“It is my professional judgment that this (impact fee) agreement is the right way to go for the village,” Deetjen said.