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County official sees value in ‘land bank’ of foreclosed properties

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by DAVID ROEDER

Land banks, agencies set up to acquire vacant and foreclosed homes and make them community assets once again, work in Michigan, Ohio and New York and the idea should get a tryout here, said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.


She’s spent a fair amount of time on land banks, examining their impact elsewhere, considering models for governance and explaining the concept to mayors, developers and nonprofit groups. Gainer, who represents Cook County’s 10th District covering the North Side lakefront and Northwest Side, said she’s picking up support and hopes to bring a land bank ordinance to the County Board in a couple of months. She cited encouragement from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Land banks, she said, can deal with properties the marketplace has rejected. “There is such a disconnect out there,” she said. “You see people walking away from their homes, but there’s a long transition period to a new owner because of the backlog of foreclosures.” She said that in Cook County, it takes more than 500 days from the filing of a foreclosure to the awarding of a title.

That “limbo period” can hurt communities, she said, as neglected properties multiply.

Gainer said land banks can clear away title problems and back taxes, making properties attractive to buyers. Some major mortgage lenders, she said, are “chomping at the bit” to donate homes to such an agency.

A land bank here wouldn’t levy taxes and would be independent of any single government. Gainer has been looking at alternatives for private and public cooperation, perhaps having the program run by an experienced nonprofit group.

She estimated it would need about $15 million in seed money over three years, which could come from grants and Illinois’ share of a financial settlement for mortgage fraud. At least the robo-signing banks would be paying to clean up their mess.

Gainer said most land banks elsewhere are self-sustaining on money from rentals and property sales. She cited particular success in Flint, Mich.’s Genesee County and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. More information is at BridgetGainer.com.

FRANKLIN FODDER: Last month, I wrote about the Crown family and their development partners, Tishman Speyer Properties, pushing plans for an office building at the large vacant site at 130 N. Franklin. Since then, I’ve learned a couple of things.

One is that I have a rendering of the project by Krueck and Sexton Architects, the firm that designed the Spertus Institute on Michigan Avenue. The sharply angled glass of the Franklin Street project looks a lot like the Spertus building, so perhaps the Crowns should ask for more originality for their money.

I earlier spoke with family patriarch Lester Crown, who emphasized that tenants for the project are probably a long way off. Crown also voiced no regret for tearing down the old Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which sat on part of the property. The razing incurred the wrath of preservationists. Crown said he had to tear it down fast before the city landmarked the building, which he said would have been a mistake. “It was an inefficient use for the site,” he said.

NO NO NATO: For all the promises about the NATO Summit being a long-term boon to Chicago business, it was a short-term drag on it, judging from information gleaned from hotels and restaurants. Standard Parking Corp., the largest operator of parking garages in and near downtown, also took a hit.

Executive Vice President Steven Warshauer said that for Friday through Monday, Standard’s garages saw a 35 percent to 70 percent decline in business from a typical period. For Standard’s hotel garages, business was off an average 39 percent because NATO delegations didn’t need to park cars and other customers avoided downtown, he said. But Warshauer said he hopes Chicago’s exposure from NATO will pay eventual dividends.

STICKING AROUND: As the former ShoreBank and under its current name, Urban Partnership Bank has long operated from 7054 S. Jeffery. But its continuation there became uncertain after ShoreBank’s failure led to the property being controlled by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which put it up for sale.

Urban Partnership has announced its purchase of the site, offering the deal as evidence that it will remain in South Shore to practice its model of community banking.

DOING THE DEALS: In a sure sign that business is jumping, Missner Group built a 50,000-square-foot trampoline center for Jump America at 880 Lakeside Dr., Gurnee.



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