By Bob Uphues
When it comes to leveraging real estate assets at Eight Corners – the confluence of Grand Boulevard, Maple Avenue and Broadway Avenue – in Brookfield, you might argue that First National Bank of Brookfield is the biggest player.
The bank owns three of the eight "corners." The bank itself occupies one of the corners and a bank ATM drive-through facility occupies another, across the street. The third corner the bank owns is an undeveloped triangle commonly known as Progress Park, an unofficial park created by the Brookfield Beautification Commission in 2011.
But the bank has a real estate rival at Eight Corners in the form of Linda Sokol Francis and, through her, the United Methodist Church.
In late March, according to the most recent information released by the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Francis purchased 3453 Grand Blvd., the corner parcel that was the longtime home of Lagori's diner and most recently housed Nutriworld.
When Francis learned the property was for sale, she bought it sight-unseen for $225,000.
According to Francis and her son, the Rev. Karl Sokol, the plan is to open a restaurant in the former diner space, whose booths and lunch counter have sat untouched since Lagori's closed. The restaurant would be sponsored by the Methodist Church, Francis said.
"It's not going to be a business that takes away from any other business in Brookfield," Francis said.
Her son, who is spearheading the effort to work obtain approvals from the village and recruit a restaurant management team, indicated the restaurant may focus on a healthy foods, Mediterranean-style eatery that would look to source ingredients locally – maybe even hyperlocally, via the church's community garden plots across Grand Boulevard.
There's some thought, too, of opening a doughnut shop in the building that formerly housed Kewpie's at 3434 Maple Ave., which Francis also owns.
Francis views the businesses as part of the local Methodist church's overall mission to increase its presence and attract people to Compassion United Methodist Church, which is led by her son.
"None of it is for the purpose of making money, but all for the purpose of helping the community and letting people know about the church," Francis said.
Since 1988, Francis has invested more than $2.2 million in property at Eight Corners, the neighborhood her business, Brookfield Financial Plans at 3439 Grand Blvd., has operated in for decades.
Francis now owns two of the corners, with the other held by a company called God's Will LLC, which she created in 2009. That year and into 2010, God's Will LLC bought up 14 separate zoning parcels on the west side of the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard.
Ownership of all but the four parcels closest to the corner were transferred to the United Methodist Church in the wake of a failed bid to win village approval for a combined community center/church.
With the purchase of the opposite corner, Francis also owns seven of nine zoning parcels closest to the circle on the east side of the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard and the west side of Maple Avenue.
When the other two parcels, which house a two-flat and an adjacent parking area, were for sale in 2004, Francis said she attempted to buy them. She backed off after the former owners, who knew she was looking to assemble parcels, jacked up the sale price.
According to Francis, the current owner isn't interested in selling, but she's still interested in buying if it ever comes to that.
"If he sells, it may be an option to buy and make a campus [of the assembled land]," Francis said.
Compassion United Methodist Church, meanwhile, owns two parcels of land at 9210 Broadway Ave., a former dry cleaning business directly west of Progress Park. That space, purchased in 2016, will soon function as a for-profit art gallery that the congregation can use to hold Sunday services. The church currently has no permanent facility for services.
Francis hopes controlling large portions of two corners and part of a third will provide her and the Methodist church with leverage when they inevitably re-approach the village with their community center/church plan.
If the congregation grows, its leverage in the neighborhood will grow, said Francis, who said she's maintaining ownership of the corner parcels so that if the village attempts to claim them through eminent domain in the future, they'll have to face off against her and not the church.
The village has not indicated any plans to use eminent domain to acquire property in what is now the Eight Corners Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.
"There has been absolutely zero consideration of eminent domain at Eight Corners that I have been involved in. Zero," said Brookfield Village Manager Keith Sbiral. "Have never even heard anyone suggest it. There has been no consideration to my knowledge of any property in Eight Corners TIF for eminent domain."
The village on its Community and Economic Development webpage does list the large parcel eyed for the community center/church as a key candidate for redevelopment. Francis and her son told the Landmark they have asked the village to remove the site from the webpage, since they have no intention of parting with the land. The village has not honored that request.
Sbiral said the webpage is a tool to help developers easily find possible sites for redevelopment. The village's webpage includes other privately held parcels in key areas of Brookfield, including near Metra stations and along Ogden Avenue and 31st Street.