By ALAN J. ORTBALS
CASEYVILLE — The massive Forest Lakes subdivision on Illinois Route 159 in Caseyville is being resurrected and given a new name, Tanglewood. Its new owners expect to formally kick things off with a ribbon cutting later this month.
Forest Lakes was emblematic of the collapse of the housing market in 2008 but its history tracked back 10 years before that.
The village of Caseyville created a tax increment finance district in 1998 hoping to develop a residential/golf community but that project fell through. In 2003 a couple of California developers approached village leaders with a massive development proposal covering 500 acres and stretching from Illinois 159 to Illinois 157. A limited liability company called Caseyville Sport Choice was formed in 2003 to carry out the project and the developers worked with the village to amend and expand the TIF district in 2004.
The project was to include the development of 625 homes, in five separate neighborhoods, with prices ranging from $240,000 to more than $1 million. It was also to include 40 acres of commercial development, active and passive parks and 30 to 40 lakes.
In December 2004, the village issued almost $31 million in TIF bonds to help finance the project. In addition, private loans of nearly $11 million were made to the developer of the project by the Caseyville Loan Company and the Caseyville Retail Loan Company, which were created strictly to help finance the project.
Clearing and grading of the property began in 2005. All of the streets, sewers and other infrastructure were installed and Padgett Building and Remodeling of Belleville began work on the first model home in 2007. The national housing market began its decline later that year and crashed the year after. That model home was never completed nor were any others ever built.
By 2008, the project was supposed to be producing more than $1.75 million in tax increment according to documents on file with the Village Clerk’s Office. But, with the development stalled, less than $30,000 in increment was actually generated in 2008 according to the St. Clair County Clerk’s Office.
United Community Bank eventually ended up with the property and sought a buyer to take it off its hands. The bank eventually linked up with Russell Waters, a Columbia, Ill., attorney and his son Jacob, founder of CCA Partners, LLC, a Dallas, Texas, firm that invests in debt and equity into entrepreneur-owned companies and opportunistic private investments as well as advising businesses on capital structure and growth strategy. The two liked what they saw and worked out a deal to buy the 470-acre residential property from the bank in September 2014.
Jacob Watters said that they were also interested in buying the 38 commercially zoned acres along Illinois 159 but could not agree on price.
“We saw it as an opportunity to reposition the property to bring value to the every-day family,” he said.
Rather than elite homes ranging as high as a million dollars, Jacob said that homes would be priced between $150,000 and $400,000, which is more in line with the Collinsville/Caseyville market.
“We’re 15 minutes from Scott Air Force Base and 15 minutes from Downtown St. Louis,” Jacob said. “You could have a mid-level executive or an attorney, or a doctor — being just a few miles away from the Medical Mile that’s going in, in O’Fallon — who can offer their kids hundreds of acres of common ground, multiple lakes to go play on and fish and not have the expense of buying the property. We’ll be able to offer the everyday family all of that for a very affordable price.”
The Watters formed an acquisition company called Forest Lakes Acquisition, LLC to acquire the property and hold it for development. They are now seeking homebuilders to buy the lots. Jacob said there are two homebuilders that have committed to buy lots and there are several others that are expressing interest. The property is laid out in 11 different subdivisions with 390 lots.
“It’s a gorgeous property,” Jacob said. “There are over 100 acres of woods and common ground. There are four or five creeks that run throughout the property, three lakes. Every time I go out there I see eagles, hawks and deer. It’s amazing. It’s where nature and community connect.”
Jacob was complimentary of the cooperation and support received from the village administration.
“This has been a true public-private partnership,” Jacob said. “Everybody else who was looking at this property was fighting the village and was asking them to pay for things. We just came in and said, let’s make this a true partnership. This is what we’re going to do; let’s move forward for the good of the community and the mutual benefit of us and the community and it’s really worked out well. The Village Board of Trustees has been on board with the project and really helped to expedite and move things forward very efficiently for us. It’s really been a blessing to work with everybody there.”