Preliminary talks are underway about a possible annexation and redevelopment of Calumet Country Club that would bring the property into Hazel Crest, according to Mayor Vernard Alsberry.
So far, no formal annexation request has been made, and Alsberry said Thursday he is waiting to see a proposal for how the property might be developed.
The 130-acre property, northwest of Dixie Highway and 175th Street, is in unincorporated Cook County after Homewood officials, in April 2021, voted to allow the country club to part ways with the village.
That came after village officials turned down plans to redevelop the property for as much as 800,000 square feet of warehouse space, a project that provoked the ire of nearby residents concerned about truck traffic and potential loss of value to their homes.
A grassroots organization, South Suburbs for Greenspace, which formed when Homewood was considering the redevelopment plans, released documents it received from Hazel Crest, through the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which showed correspondence and meetings in recent months related to a possible annexation to Hazel Crest.
It’s not clear what the latest development proposal is, but emails indicate a hotel, water park, a smattering of retail and warehouse uses are being proposed. Officials confirmed the documents released by Greenspace.
The correspondence includes emails between Hazel Crest’s village attorney John Murphey, Hazel Crest village administrator Dante Sawyer, Chicago attorney Langdon Neal and Curtis Thompson with a firm called Catalyst Consulting.
Arizona-based Diversified Partners paid $3.3 million in the fall of 2020 for the golf course property, before Homewood’s rejection of development plans.
The golf course was founded in 1901 and annexed to Homewood in 1980. It has been open to the public for golf.
Murphey said Thursday that while there have been talks with Neal and Catalyst about a possible annexation, nothing has been presented to the Village Board, which Alsberry confirmed Thursday.
“Catalyst indicated they will come forward with something” regarding the annexation proposal, Murphey said.
Alsberry said Catalyst officials told him they are considering a mixed-use development that doesn’t have a large concentration of warehouses.
“Something more positive than concrete and trucks,” Alsberry said.
“We don’t want 150 acres of trucking,” Alsberry said. “That doesn’t help anybody.”
The mayor said he has heard elements including retail, sports fields, a hotel and water park are among the plans.
Earlier this year, Catalyst mentioned plans including a 200,000-square-foot “automated prefabricated housing facility” to produce doors and windows for manufactured homes. Indoor farming and potentially a hotel to accommodate visitors to the planned casino on the border of East Hazel Crest and Homewood were part of the company’s plans.
A youth sports complex, dog park, restaurants and possibly a bank and coffee shop are also part of the proposal, along with a facility to “train and prepare individuals for the anticipated” 1,000 permanent jobs the development would create, according to the letter from Catalyst to South Suburbs for Greenspace.
Neither Murphey nor Alsberry were sure whether Catalyst is working on behalf of Diversified, the property owner.
Messages left Thursday for Catalyst, Diversified and Neal, the attorney representing Catalyst, were not immediately returned.
A project of the size Diversified or Catalyst has proposed would need to secure essential ingredients to make it work such as water and sewer, something that would come from a connection with a neighboring suburb.
Another obstacle to attempting a development in unincorporated Cook County is that, during her tenure, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has made a priority of consolidating detached properties into incorporated communities.
In one email South Suburbs for Greenspace made public, Murphey notes the property is not prime for development because there is no access to municipal utilities, unless it is annexed to a surrounding community. Hazel Crest abuts the property on three sides and would appear to be a natural choice after being annexed by Homewood.
The July email casts doubts on proposals such as retail being proposed along a strip of Dixie Highway, as well as a hotel or youth sports field, the attorney says in the note to Alsberry and Dante Sawyer, village administrator. Other emails show that village trustees were invited to separate meetings to discuss a possible annexation and redevelopment.
Murphey says in the July 11 email he doesn’t believe there is any market for a hotel, considering the number of hotels to the east of Hazel Crest off the intersection of Interstates 80/94 and Halsted Street. That is also where a casino is planned that will include a hotel.
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The attorney also notes that a water park has been thrown into the plans for the property, and doubts the viability of such a project, according to the email.
“What market is there for such a facility and who will invest?” he asks.
Murphey said Thursday the property owners would likely want a tax increment financing district established, which would be a lengthy process and involve Hazel Crest hiring outside consultants to help.
If an annexation and TIF district were to be considered, Hazel Crest could seek reimbursement from the developer for those costs, Murphey said Thursday. Such reimbursement is “a typical element of a negotiation,” he said.
Murphey and Alsberry both said they did not have much familiarity with the principals of Catalyst and could not say whether the company is affiliated with Diversified. The mayor said he has spoken with Thompson from Catalyst.
Murphey said if a proposal for annexation were to be presented to Hazel Crest, it would need to include the owner of record of the property.