Another Real Estate Sham…Wow!


With the City Council already having dug us even deeper into its 2009-10 budget hole by throwing extra public money at private organizations which invoke their 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status to justify their perennial money-losing performances, we thought it worthwhile to bring some attention to what could become another financial black hole for Park Ridge taxpayers. 

As reported by both local newspapers during the first week of this month, a board member of the 501(c)(3) Kalo Foundation of Park Ridge [pdf] is looking to buy 720 Garden Street – most recently, the home of American Insurance but unofficially re-named the “Clute House” by the Kalo-ers – for a “Park Ridge Non-Profit Center” to house our community’s non-profit organizations. 

Ironically, the Kalo board member driving this plan is none other than John Sasser, who in the waning days of last month’s mayoral campaign tossed a cool $1,000 into the political war chest of former Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark [pdf], whose semi-secret attempt to negotiate the City’s purchase of that very same property for a new police station was “outed” by then-alderman, now Mayor Dave Schmidt.

At the time, Frimark and his Alderpuppets howled like banshees about Schmidt’s disclosure, falsely accusing Schmidt of violating the non-existent confidentiality/secrecy of “closed session” City Council meetings.  But when the city attorney opined that nothing in the Illinois Open Meetings Act prohibited such disclosures, or provided any sanctions against it, Frimark cooked up a silly, kangaroo-style “condemnation” of Schmidt – which infuriated many citizens and may well have helped propel Schmidt into the mayor’s office.

Well done, Howard!  

But back to Sasser’s plan.  According to the Park Ridge Journal article (“Kalo May Buy Historic Clute House,” May 6), Sasser is “trying to set up financing to purchase the building directly as a non-profit.”  Sasser calls his plan “a leap of faith.”

Sounds to us more like a white elephant in the making.

Right now, we understand that 720 Garden is generating a nice chunk of property taxes each year which benefits the City, the Park District and, to an even greater degree, School District 64.  But if that property is purchased by a non-profit, in all likelihood that tax revenue will disappear because non-profits in Illinois are eligible for tax-exempt status. 

And judging by past and current City Council practices, the non-profits who would own and/or occupy 720 Garden would soon be asking – and getting – tax dollars from the City to keep that building open and operating.  So, once again, Park Ridge taxpayers would be providing welfare to a bunch of private organizations, many of which are run like hobbies instead of businesses.

What’s Sasser’s angle (because there’s always an “angle” with deals like this)?

We’re not sure, because we don’t know all the tricks of the real estate trade, or the various ways that property can be leased, optioned or otherwise managed so that it can be purchased at its currently-depressed market price using the currently-low financing rates, carried on a non-profit basis while the real estate market recovers, and then sold off for a tidy profit when the market recovers, and/or when the Uptown Redevelopment plan eventually moves down there to Target Area IV.

We here at PublicWatchdog believe that taking any private property off the tax rolls is bad public policy unless it is absolutely necessary for an over-riding public purpose.  And that policy becomes even worse in practice when the taxpayers also end up paying for the operation and upkeep of the tax-exempt property, via City welfare payments to those organizations.

We’re already being fleeced by a TIF District that has sucked millions out of City coffers while providing only promises of profits to come.  We don’t need to add to that problem by taking a revenue-producing property off the tax rolls in that District.