By Bob Uphues
Linda Sokol Francis, the Brookfield businesswoman who remains determined to bring a Methodist church/community center to the Eight Corners business district, has purchased another of the corners that frame the Veterans Memorial Circle in the village.
On Oct. 23, according to property records on file with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Francis purchased the former Harps Realty office at 3500 Grand Blvd. for $155,000 from attorney Jeffrey Marek, who had owned the property since May 2012.
Francis or companies associated with her now own three of the eight corners. Three others are owned by First National Bank of Brookfield. Leo's Liquors and a dental office sit on the two remaining corners, properties belonging to two different private owners.
Reached last week, Francis told the Landmark she doesn't have a specific plan in mind for the former real estate office, whose yellow sign and awnings have made it a highly visible landmark at the circle.
"At this point I have absolutely no idea whatsoever," Francis said.
But whatever the property eventually is used for, like the other properties Francis owns in the business district, will align with the church's mission.
"We will do something and it will be advantageous to the church whatever we do with it," she said.
That doesn't mean that the Harps property will have an overtly religious mission. Other properties she owns in and around the circle will house for-profit businesses eventually, creating jobs for those who need them and driving traffic to the area.
Francis plans to open a specialty doughnut shop in the small storefront she owns at 3434 Maple Ave., just north of the circle. The building most recently housed Kewpies, a hot dog stand.
She's not sure when the store might open, but said she's working with the village's building department on plans.
In March, Francis purchased the corner property at 3453 Grand Blvd., a former diner that she hopes to turn into a restaurant. That plan got delayed last month when workers repairing the building's roof accidentally ignited a fire inside the space.
Since the Nov. 7 fire, work on the building renovation has been on hold while Francis waits for the roofing company's insurance carrier to finish up its investigation.
Complicating the matter somewhat is the fact that items destroyed in the fire – art supplies and a piano – belonged to Compassion United Methodist Church, whose pastor is Francis' son, the Rev. Karl Sokol.
Compassion UMC owns a commercial property at 9210 Broadway Ave., just off the circle, which it is turning into an art gallery/studio space. Sokol also wants to hold Sunday services for his fledgling congregation in the art gallery.
That use is apparently getting some pushback from the village of Brookfield, which has told Sokol that he must obtain a special use permit to hold church services there.
The village's stance irks Sokol's mom no end.
"I disagree," she said. "It's private property, and you can go anywhere you want to pray."
Back in 2010, the village rejected Francis' bid to build a church/community center on a large parcel of land in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard owned by a corporation she created and called God's Will LLC.
Francis later donated a large portion of the property to the United Methodist Church, but God's Will LLC retains ownership of the corner parcel. Francis said her son's congregation held outdoor services on the church-owned land in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard until getting a cease-and-desist letter from the village earlier this year.
The congregation has been hosting Sunday services in a 31st Street martini bar since that time.
Meanwhile, the village's director community and economic development, Nicholas Greifer, called Francis' purchase of the former Harps property "a head-scratcher."
The village has created a tax increment financing district in the Eight Corners area to spur redevelopment at key parcels.
Francis' and Sokol's efforts at bringing new uses to Eight Corners are fine, Greifer said, "as long as they're pursuing projects like the restaurant, which are consistent with what the village board was seeking to do by establishing the TIF district. Otherwise they'd run contrary to what the TIF district was set up for."