In the year that just ended, I wanted the H-F Chronicle to do something about the Ken Norman house.
Actually, that has been one of my personal goals for the last three years. Virtually nothing about the house — a giant gray gated hulk in full decay on Kedzie Avenue just north of Flossmoor Road — has changed in that time, and it remains the hands-down winner as the biggest eyesore in our towns.
But what to do? The Chronicle’s mission is to tell stories great and small in the H-F area. It was hard to get a grasp on the nature of a story about a once-grand house, built just a few decades ago by an NBA player, and how it was abandoned and fell into such an advanced state of disrepair in a relatively short time.
For years, nothing was going on at the house and there was little to say other than, “Yep, it’s there and it’s a mess.”
Early in 2019, however, some minimal progress took place. A company that specializes in flipping residential properties purchased the Ken Norman house, sight unseen, and announced plans to renovate it. One of our talented writers, Carole Sharwarko, was given the assignment to write about what might possibly happen at the property. And I am happy to say that Carole’s fine story ran in the Chronicle’s November print edition. I am sure that many of you read it.
For me, it was the Chronicle’s story of the year, although some of you might nominate any number of well-done articles among the hundreds of stories about Homewood and Flossmoor that the paper carried in the last 12 months.
I am also happy to say that there was a legitimate news hook — the flipping firm announced its intention to annex to the village of Flossmoor, and to demolish the house and develop the property for commercial purposes. Village officials said they were willing to talk about annexation but only if the owner agreed to tear down the existing structure on the property.
At this point, let me explain that when I say I wanted the Chronicle “to do something” about the Ken Norman house, I had something else in the back of my mind. Once our story ran, I thought, the Chronicle should start a petition drive calling for the demolition of the house. Signatures collected during the petition drive would be forwarded to the Cook County Board, which has jurisdiction over the Norman house property.
That’s one of the sticking points that makes the house such an eyesore. Though surrounded by Flossmoor on all sides, the Ken Norman house remains in unincorporated Cook County. The house is subject to inspection by county authorities — Carole’s story said that was last done in 2017 — but it does not have to follow any of the local ordinances that are in effect in a municipality like Flossmoor. Plus, the property isn’t even hooked up to a municipal water system, which means it relies on wells and a septic field.
After Carole wrote her story, I put any thoughts about a petition drive on hold — it looked like the owner was taking immediate steps to move ahead with annexation. In the couple of months since then, though, there has been nothing from the flipping firm that indicates we are going to see any real progress anytime soon. I’m willing to wait a little longer.
However, If there is no progress by mid-year, the Chronicle may be asking you to sign a petition calling for the county to take action on the property so that it can be taken down, once and for all.
Having said all that, I’d like to wish all of you a healthy and happy New Year.
In 2019, The Chronicle celebrated its fifth full year of providing fair and accurate local journalism every day to our H-F towns. Last month we marked four years of producing monthly print editions and for the last three years we have sent our print product free of charge to every residential postal address in Homewood and Flossmoor. We’ve now put out about 50 print editions.
It’s been something of a hard slog, filled with joy and frustration but always worthwhile. I find that I can still be surprised by developments at the paper. Two months ago, I wrote a column on casino gambling that had more than 34,000 online reads — the equivalent of a story going viral for us. It was a reminder that people are reading the Chronicle, and not just in our two towns.
At the Chronicle, we know the sad story of community journalism over the past two decades. Thousands of local newspapers across the country have ceased publication and many more are a shadow of their former selves, their staffs slashed so much that it’s nearly impossible to cover the news in any meaningful way.
The three of us who started the Chronicle — Eric Crump, Marilyn Thomas and myself — know that a reliable news outlet is necessary to the well-being of a strong community. During the last five years, we have made definite progress and the Chronicle, in our towns, is now at the forefront of providing important information that can be believed and trusted.
For the most part, we have not asked for anything in return. We are grateful to our advertisers — please look over our ads and patronize those fine folks who support us — and know that they provide revenue that makes it possible to keep the Chronicle going. We have printing and mailing costs and also compensate our support staff of a designer, ad salesperson, photographer, administrative assistant and writers. Eric, Marilyn and I are still unpaid volunteers.
This year, we are going to ask you to help support the Chronicle. We have lots of ideas on how this might work.
We plan to set up a membership program and it’s likely that any revenues from memberships will be committed directly to our reporters. You’ll have the opportunity to be a “reporter supporter.”
We are considering a paywall for our online product, a step that news organizations across the country have had in place for several years. We’d like to increase our sports coverage and are considering options under which community members might act as sponsors.
We will let you know more about our plans in the weeks to come. We know that you would like the Chronicle to be part of the community for many more years. And we’re going to give you a chance to help make that happen.