A big project at Heartland Park is expected to bring more than new playground equipment to the Clublands of Antioch neighborhood.
True, the small merry-go-round, tall slides and new swings will raise the entertainment bar from tot lot status and provide options for older kids.
Other work includes an overhaul of the park's centerpiece landscaping feature, considered a must-have to improve the appearance of the signature park and community gathering place.
But an estimated $200,000 investment by homeowners in the long, linear park between Club Lake Drive and Neuway Lane also is considered another step in the slow revival of Clublands, which was left adrift and inactive with the bankruptcy of Neumann Homes in 2007.
During the bankruptcy and the period before the arrival of Elmhurst developer Troy Mertz, the homeowners association managed and maintained the property south of Route 173 at Savage Road on the village's east side. The park is centrally located in the sprawling development and used for many community gatherings, such as a summer picnic, Easter egg hunts and a Halloween event.
"The HOA board felt strongly that we do so to ensure future interest in the continuing development of the property," said Paul Johnson, president of the Clublands of Antioch Homeowners Association.
That was a tall order, as only about one-third of the original 956 planned houses were built. The Neumann project also includes property to the north of Route 173 but the single-family Clublands is the larger of the two and is considered separately for development purposes.
Planning for the Heartland Park improvement began in 2015, but like other key actions associated with Clublands, was slow going. The village, after a lengthy legal battle with Neumann, was allowed to install utilities and public parks. So first, responsibility for Heartland Park had to be transferred to allow the HOA to plan and make improvements.
"We thought it was in our interest to get the park dedicated to us," said Jeff Rosenthal, who shepherded the project as a member of the HOA parks committee.
In May 2017, a designer was hired to create a master plan and present it to the community and HOA board. A revised version with opportunities for future additions was approved last week and the equipment has been ordered. The plan is to rededicate the park July 28 during the annual Summerfest.
"It's a significant project because it will make the neighborhood so much nicer," Rosenthal said. "It benefits everybody, even those who don't have children."
Although it is 15 years old and looking a bit worn in spots, revamping Heartland Park is intended to have ancillary benefits. The hope is it will improve property values and accelerate sales of available existing homes and construction of new ones. The latter already is well underway and rapidly advancing.
All parties involved agree nothing would be happening without Mertz, who bought the property and recruited D.R. Horton Inc.
According to Mertz, Clublands has become one of the best-selling communities in the Chicago area for Horton, the largest homebuilder by volume in the U.S. Horton has built 65 homes since opening a model in late 2016 and is planning another 31 this summer. So far, Horton is the only builder.
"However, I am currently looking at opportunities to build and develop other areas of the community," Mertz said. Site plans have been drawn for 347 undeveloped lots, 113 improved lots and 110 partially improved lots in Clublands, he added. Mertz also is working with the Clublands HOA on plans for a community clubhouse, called for in the original Neumann plan, but not built.
"It's been a long time," Rosenthal noted. "It's hard to go through all that. A lot of people stuck through it and we're still here."
The village, too, played a major role in the revival by refinancing $26 million in special service area bonds to spark development. Antioch also waived $1,950 in permit fees for the park and is working with Mertz to start new neighborhoods in Clublands, said Michael Garrigan, community development director.
Clublands is "one of the most active" residential developments in Lake County in terms of new housing starts, Garrigan said. For the village, more homeowners means more property tax, people to spend money on goods and services and more rooftops to pitch to potential businesses.