Local News

Homewood joins land bank to address vacant buildings

When Bogart’s Charhouse ceased operations at 18225 Dixie Highway a few years ago, it created a significant hole in Homewood’s downtown commercial landscape, and a tangle of red tape has thwarted efforts to redevelop the site. 

Bogart’s, a once-popular Homewood restaurant, has 
been vacant for several years. Village officials hope the 
South Suburban Land Bank can acquire and help 
redevelop the property.

But Homewood has a new tool for dealing with impediments to development that could get Bogart’s and similar vacant properties back on the market faster. In August, the Homewood Board of Trustees voted to join the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority (SSLBDA), a quasi-governmental organization that specializes in obtaining and redeveloping problem properties.

SSLBDA is a 501(c) nonprofit corporation that can acquire, redevelop and sell properties that have tax problems or are foreclosed on.

At the trustees meeting, Bogart’s was mentioned as a top priority, as was the former Brunswick Zone bowling alley on 183rd Street and the former Citgo gas station on the northwest corner of 183rd Street and Morris Avenue. Tom Vander Woude, village economic development director, said Friday, Nov. 13, that progress is being made on freeing the Bogart’s property from the grips of back taxes and liens that made it difficult for prospective developers to acquire the property.

“It has a strategic value for us because of its visibility and size,” he said. The one-acre site includes five parcels of land and is situated near the heart of the downtown business district. SSLBDA has filed paperwork with Cook County to initiate the process of acquiring the property, he said. 

The process could take another six to eight months, but Vander Woude said it is a much shorter time than the process would take if the village tried to tackle the project itself. Instead of spending time shepherding the acquisition process through county government, village officials are focusing on the search for a developer to bring the property back into use.

Village officials hope to see a project that will fit the village’s economic development plans, which call for an emphasis on transit-oriented businesses, including mixed-use developments that include retail and residential elements, he said. 

Vander Woude said preliminary work is also being done on the Citgo site, adding that project could be more difficult because redeveloping gas stations requires environmental analysis of the site. 

Business properties are not the only projects SSLBDA undertakes. He said the organization can also acquire vacant residential properties that are difficult to market because of back taxes. He said one project is being explored in Homewood now.

One question from residents at the village board meeting in August was whether the land bank could operate independently from the village. Vander Woude noted that the land bank will work closely with the village on any project it pursues.

Russell Rydin, executive director of SSLBDA, said the land bank would not proceed without permission from the village. Vander Woude is the liaison between the village and the land bank. 

SSLBDA had 16 member communities prior to adding Homewood, including Blue Island, Chicago Heights, Dolton, Ford Heights, Hazel Crest, Joliet, Midlothian, Oak Forest, Olympia Fields, Park Forest, Phoenix, Richton Park, Robbins, Sauk Village, Steger and Summit. 

Municipalities do not have to pay fees to belong and can leave the land bank any time.

This story originally appeared in the HF Chronicle print edition on Dec. 1.
Photos by Eric Crump/HF Chronicle.

More information:
South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority

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