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South suburbs aim to fill empty properties

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UNIVERSITY PARK | It’s not every day someone applies the words of Dr. Seuss to the potential for economic development in the south suburbs.

Yet for Adam Dotson, there is wisdom in the words of Theodor Giesel in “The Lorax” when he wrote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Dotson oversees economic development in southwest suburban Oak Forest, and is trying to get all south suburbs involved in cooperating with a Land Bank program that could help make viable property that now sits empty due to foreclosure or tax delinquency.

“I really believe that," Dotson told government and business officials of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp., which used its quarterly gathering Friday at the University Golf Club and Convention Center to hear presentations concerning a Land Bank and a development fund.

The South Suburban Land Bank and Development authority is a project by which municipalities work to pool properties within their borders that are tax delinquent or abandoned due to foreclosures.

Dotson said towns and villages working together with their troubled properties might be able to come up with ways to turn them into viable sites for business interests in the future.

As of now, there are only three governments participating in the Land Bank program – Park Forest, Blue Island and Oak Forest. But Dotson said he hopes the day will come when nearly all the municipalities in the south suburbs will be a part of the program.

“The Land Bank is not sustainable yet,” he said. “We’d like to have full participation someday in a bank that would help put properties back on the market so that they can make money for the future.”

Another program touted on Friday was the Chicago Southland Development Fund, which received some start-up funds from the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association and also is trying to get assorted grants to help the program provide grants. The grants would total up to $500,000 per project for development projects located within a half-mile of Metra commuter train stations or fixed-stop bus transit stations – such as the Harvey Transportation Center at 154th Street and Park Avenue or the Homewood station at Ridge Road and Halsted Street.

Andy Geer, a vice president of the Chicago-based Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., said the locations close to mass transit have potential for housing and mixed-use development projects.

On a separate matter, Esmark Steel Group operations Vice President Rubin Kuznitsky – whose company’s holdings include Amtex Steel Inc. in University Park and Century Steel and Sun Steel in Chicago Heights – said he supports efforts such as the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership’s cooperation with area community colleges to train people for future manufacturing jobs.

He said many people are unemployable by his company because they have drug problems or are lacking either a solid work ethic or do not have sufficient mathematics skills.

“Our school system doesn’t seem to emphasize these traits,” Kuznitsky said.


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