Mystery buyer of closed racquetball club in Palos Hills is revealed

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

One mystery has been solved but one very big one remains regarding the property on which sits the shuttered Palos Olympic Health and Racquetball Club.

Palos Hills City Attorney George Pappas ended months of intrigue last Thursday when he revealed it was the Deerfield-based AAA Funding Inc. that purchased the 1.8-acre property for $5,200 in this summer’s Cook County Scavenger Sale. Pappas said he met with AAA Funding Inc. principal Jim Berles for more than two hours recently and it is the new buyer’s intention to develop the property. But what will occur next at the site, which has been without business for more than a decade, is very much unknown — even to the new buyer.

“He came into my office unannounced and we discussed the property,” Pappas told the council of his meeting with Berles. “He has no definite plans right now.”

While Berles and his company may not yet have a plan outlined, Pappas said he made it clear they are responsible for maintenance at the property, 11050 S. Roberts Road. As the site has changed hands several times in the last decade, the city has had issues getting the owners to cut the grass and keep the area clean. Signs prohibiting trespassers have been unsuccessful in thwarting teenagers from entering the site and the dilapidated building. Palos Hills police have to frequently patrol the property as a security fence installed around the site has been knocked down in certain areas.

“We continue to shag kids out of there because those fences are knocked down,” Police Chief Paul Madigan told Pappas at the Palos Hills City Council meeting. “If you talk to [Berles] again he needs to do something about securing that property. We spend a lot of time trying to keep that property secure.”

Pappas asked Madigan to send him a bill for the man hours the police department spends patrolling the site and he would add it to the lien the city already has against the property. 

Palos Hills Public Works Commissioner Nick Oeffling told the council he has also met with Berles and informed him he must maintain the property.

“My only concern is upkeep and maintenance because right now no one is doing upkeep and maintenance,” Oeffling said. “I talked with [Berles] and he has agreed to maintain the property. There’s some fencing that needs to be repaired and we discussed having that taken care of by the first of the year.”

Although AAA Funding Inc. purchased the property they do not official own it, Pappas explained to the council. Ownership will come only after the company pays approximately $370,000 in back taxes, he said. Berles has indicated to Pappas he believes he can get the taxes reduced.

Mayor Gerald Bennett said if and when AAA Funding does obtain the deed to the parcel, it will be his recommendation the city council makes a motion to condemn the property. The racquetball club building is more than 40 years old and in dilapidated condition, Bennett has previously said.

“When he gets the tax deed you let us know,” Bennett told Pappas. “The first motion I will ask the city council to make is to move for condemnation.”

Pappas said Berles is aware the building must be demolished but that he would remind him the next time they speak.

During a council meeting last month Pappas expressed uncertainty the new buyer would build on the property. He reiterated those statements last week despite noting Berles told him he is in process of finding investors.

“I have some doubts with whether he will go forward with developing this property,” Pappas said. “Hopefully, I will be able to come back in about six months with some answers. Right now there isn’t much more that we can do other than make sure he maintains [the property].

“I’m not sure if he realizes how extensive it is going to be to develop that piece of property.”  

If the property does go back up for sale, Palos Hills has indicated they would be interested in purchasing the property.

In other news, Bennett invited state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) to the meeting to provide an update on the happenings in Springfield. Cunningham touched on a few topics, most notably the state finally passing a budget this July after two years without one.  

“That was completely unconscionable,” he said of the budget situation. “There was no excuse for it. It was a real failure.”

Cunningham described the budget as “imperfect,” but said it “had to be done.”

“Going another year without a budget was just something we could not do.”

He said the state is beginning to “chip away” at the $15 billion in unpaid bills that are the result of not having a budget for the past two years.

“There are a lot of late fees associated with those bills that have probably affected Palos Hills and many other municipalities,” Cunningham said. “The budget has kind of sucked all of the oxygen out of the room in Springfield as it should. That has been our main focus.”