Kadner: Tinley Park Park District lot rented to car dealer
By Phil Kadner email@example.com December 10, 2012 4:32PM
Nearly 100 new vehicles from Bettenhausen Dodge are parked in a lot west of the Tony Bettenhausen Recreation Center and White Water Canyon Water Park at Community Park in Tinley Park Monday, December 10, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 12, 2013 6:12AM
My initial outrage turned into simple curiosity after I discovered a suburban park district parking lot is being used as a storage facility for new cars.
About 100 new Dodge vehicles are neatly lined up in the Tony Bettenhausen Recreation Center parking lot, 8125 W. 171st St., Tinley Park.
Bettenhausen Motor Sales, 8355 W. 159th St., is several blocks north of the park district lot.
“Yes, we allow Bettenhausen to park its cars there,” said John Curran, director of parks and recreation for the Tinley Park Park District.
Curran said Bettenhausen called several months ago and said it had received a large shipment of cars and had no place to store them.
“We agreed to let them use the lot for $1,000 a month beginning in September,” Curran said.
“The baseball season was over (fields are nearby), and the water park isn’t used during the winter months, so there’s space.”
I asked Curran how the rent was determined and he said the park district just decided $10 a space was reasonable and “we limited it to 100 spaces because the parking lot has room for 250 cars and that would mean we still had room to park 150 cars if there was some activity going on.”
The deal expires in April when the baseball season begins, he said.
Was the parking space advertised? Were bids taken? Would other auto dealers be allowed to park their cars there?
“I suppose if someone inquired we would consider renting the space to them,” Curran said. “No one else has.”
The Bettenhausen name is synonymous with Tinley Park.
Tony Bettenhausen Sr., nationally known as the “Tinley Park Express,” was a championship race car driver killed in 1961 while testing a car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Bettenhausen Recreation Center was built, in part, as a museum to the family’s racing history.
In addition to Tony Sr., other members of the family who raced professionally include Gary Bettenhausen, Tony Bettenhausen Jr. and Merle Bettenhausen.
And Mike Bettenhausen, the president of Bettenhausen Dodge, resigned from the village board in 2010 because Bettenhausen Automotive planned to open a new Fiat dealership in Tinley Park, in addition to existing Jeep and Dodge dealerships in the area.
At the time, Mike Bettenhausen said he thought it best to step down rather than risk a conflict of interest.
That’s a pretty unusual step for a suburban official. Most would simply recuse themselves from any vote impacting their business but remain in office.
Bettenhausen was chairman of the finance and economic development committee, which oversaw the issuance of new business licenses and voted on building variances.
There’s no doubt that the Bettenhausen family have contributed greatly to Tinley Park’s growth, and many of the family members have served the public honorably over the years.
Despite that history, the arrangement with the Tinley Park Park District is unusual.
Mike Bettenhausen said his car dealership inventory just got too big for its lot, so he asked the park district if it would be willing to rent some space.
“We could probably have used our Fiat dealership on (175th Street and) Oak Park Avenue, but it’s just a little farther away, and when you get customers looking for a car at night you want to get the car to them as quickly as possible,” he said.
“The park district lot is just a little bit closer and that can make a difference.”
An argument could be made that keeping one of the largest businesses in town happy is a smart move in these tough economic times.
Another argument could be made that with suburban governments struggling to balance their books, thinking out of the box to increase revenue is a wise thing to do.
But when I asked Curran how the park district went about setting a price on its parking space, all he could offer was, “It seemed like a fair price.”
The $1,000 a month is for up to 100 vehicles, he said, so the park district doesn’t have to go about counting cars each day to see if there are 66 or 76 cars parked there.
But would the park district have made more money if it advertised for competitive bids?
It’s those unanswered questions that could lead someone to believe the Bettenhausen family was getting preferential treatment.
“I told the same thing I told you to Steve Eberhardt,” Mike Bettenhausen said.
Eberhardt is running for mayor against longtime incumbent Ed Zabrocki.
I received several calls about the Dodge vehicles in the park district lot, and I can’t say whether any came from Eberhardt.
I never asked for the identity of the callers. I just checked out the information and it turned out to be accurate.
And I have no information that Zabrocki played a role in the park district’s agreement with the dealership. The park district is a separate government from the village of Tinley Park.
Perhaps more park district and village governments should consider renting out their parking lots after hours to raise money.
Of course, the problem becomes evident when John’s Mobile Lap Dance Club wants to rent the space.
Once you’ve set a precedent, it’s a difficult thing to set limits on who has access.