Committee to study DiFebo's culture park proposal

Mayor asks commissioners to nominate members, DiFebo will participate

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing reporter

Forest Park resident Ralph DiFebo received an early Christmas gift when Mayor Anthony Calderone announced he was forming an ad hoc committee to study DiFebo's proposal to create a mini-Ravinia in the village.

Calderone asked commissioners at the Dec. 19 village council meeting to each recommend at least one resident to serve on the committee that will study DiFebo's plan for year-round use by all ages of vacant village-owned property near the Altenheim Retirement Home.

He also asked DiFebo, who was sitting in the audience, to join the committee, an invitation that was readily accepted.

In response to a question from Commissioner Joseph Byrnes regarding a deadline for providing recommendations, Calderone indicated the sooner the better. He said if he has nominations in time, the committee will be appointed at the Jan. 9 meeting. If not, action will have to wait until the Jan. 23 meeting.

"Let's make this vision a reality," Calderone said, to which Commissioner Tom Mannix said, "Let's tee it up."

"I'm thrilled," DiFebo said after the meeting. "I think we're going to have a very good Christmas. This is everything I've asked for.

"Three or four years ago, I only wanted discussion. Is it a good idea or not?"

The answer is: good enough to study.

When he made a presentation to the village council in August, DiFebo said the centerpiece of the concept is a band shell and great lawn for concerts with seating for up to 7,200 on the lawn and on a terraced berm that also would contain sound. A building containing restrooms and concessions, plus rooftop seating, would be constructed near the band shell and another building across the lawn would serve as a pavilion. The property would be primarily open space although a skating rink, walking trails and a home for the farmers market are options. A limited access roadway would connect the south and west sides and opportunities for art, including sculptures, would be scattered around the property.

Calderone said his goal is to form the committee "to keep this in motion."

Although DiFebo said he had not spoken with Calderone about the size of the committee, they agreed smaller would be better.

Calderone said he is hoping for at least six people to serve on the committee to study what he terms "a pretty ambitious plan," adding he "most likely" will recruit one commissioner to join the committee or "at least" serve as liaison to the village council.

DiFebo concurred on the lower number, saying he's hoping for a "nice working-size committee."

He said he intends to share his vision with the committee members and ask for their input, noting he is prepared to make changes if better ideas are offered.

Questions DiFebo said he would ask include, "What do think?" "What do we have to do to make it happen?" and "How much will it cost?"

Although DiFebo had applied for a Big Idea grant from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation seeking $50,000 in seed money to fund feasibility studies for the project, it was announced at the Dec. 19 meeting that he was no longer in the running.

"They don't like to fund studies," DiFebo said he was told.

However, he said he was encouraged to seek funding for the studies elsewhere, then return to the foundation.

"They told me to come back once we're ready to start building," DiFebo said. "They even said they would help me find funding." 

The village purchased the property for $3.6 million in 2001, averting a sale to a private developer whose plans were to build townhomes. The property consists of 11 acres north and south of Altenheim and includes a chapel and other outbuildings, all of which are empty. At one point, the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park targeted the site for a new facility but negotiations fell through. Fenwick High School in Oak Park also inquired about purchasing the property for a football field and other athletic fields.

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Pam Fontana  

Posted: January 3rd, 2017 4:20 PM

Could that extra 5,000 square feet of property the village didn't even know it owned and is willing to give away to a developer (for $6,000) be helpful for part of the cultural park plan? I think the village needs to hang on a bit longer before giving away land.

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