On the website of the Calumet Country Club in Homewood is a description that sums up both its appeal and the reasons for its apparent demise.
“Location is everything,” it says. “Directly accessible by car or train, Calumet is situated directly east of the intersection of I-80 and I-294 providing easy access by car. In the city? Jump on a quick 30-minute train ride from downtown.”
Yes, location is everything, for a golfer, a developer or a municipal official who would like commercial tax revenue to pick up part of the burden homeowners bear. This particular country club finds itself at the center of a tug of war among different interests, and precisely because of its location.
Its northern boundary is the interstate, and if you’ve been that way lately, you know that Interstate 80 is a draw for shippers and truckers, its lanes teeming with rigs all day. It’s like Daytona for 18-wheelers.
“We’ve become a megacluster for logistics and e-commerce,” said Reggie Greenwood, executive director of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp.
The interest has been stoked even more by Amazon’s decision to build distribution centers in Markham and Matteson, creating 2,000 full-time jobs. Another logistics hub is bound for Country Club Hills.
So it’s not surprising that development pressure should come to the Calumet Country Club, which has operated since 1901. It’s always sad to see trees and open space go, even if you never hit a tee shot, but the economics appear overwhelming.
So what becomes of the property? That’s where we get some south suburban drama.
The club’s owners, who struggled with it for years, have sold it to Diversified Partners of Scottsdale, Arizona, a nationwide developer. Walt Brown Jr., Diversified’s CEO, said he closed a couple of weeks ago on a $3.3 million sale, while also paying off about $500,000 in back taxes.
He’s proposing to turn the 127 acres into a logistics park, with four buildings totaling 800,000 square feet, creating maybe 1,000 jobs. Brown would like to start construction in the spring.
But that means he needs zoning, and Homewood hasn’t signed off on anything. Most of the property at the northwest corner of 175th Street and Dixie Highway is in Homewood, but part of it off Dixie Highway is in Hazel Crest. Brown said he might need the Hazel Crest part for access. So Diversified has joined a lawsuit the club owners originally filed seeking to de-annex the whole parcel from Homewood so it could be attached to Hazel Crest.
Brown said he believes the site meets legal standards for a de-annexation, something you don’t see every day. He expressed exasperation with Homewood, saying the decision-makers originally wanted industrial, then steered him to retail users, then to medical offices, then residential. Brown said the alternatives proved infeasible while he spent tens of thousands of dollars on various site plans.
“We’ve been at this two years, and we’re all out of categories,” he said.
An industrial project makes the most sense, Brown said. “We have multiple offers from users,” he said, promising a design with berms and ample landscaping that would make the buildings invisible from all sides except the highway.
Diversified has hired the firm CBRE to market the property and tout its potential for hundreds of loading docks and a trailer-storage ratio larger than any industrial park in the area. CBRE said the industrial vacancy rate in the south suburbs is a tight 2.7%, even though the region leads the Chicago area in current construction, with about 4 million square feet in the works.
“We’re trying to do the right thing,” Brown said, expressing anger at Homewood Village Manager Jim Marino. “He told me, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ That was his quote,” Brown said.
Marino denied ever saying that. “I don’t work that way,” he said, adding, “We’ve always looked for reasonable development there, something without a negative impact on the neighborhood.”
Residents have expressed worries about truck traffic on 175th Street, which has homes just south of the country club.
Marino declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did Homewood Village Attorney Chris Cummings.
Brown said Hazel Crest has adopted Switzerland-like neutrality on the dispute but would discuss the zoning if it gets the property. Hazel Crest Village Manager Dante Sawyer could not be reached.
To Brown, Homewood’s attitude just delays an economic boost the community needs. “They are costing time and money and jobs in the area,” he said.
This may be about a golf course, but there’s a lot of hardball being played here.