Di Febo seeks grant to help fund music park

If successful, $50K could pay for engineering and architectural study

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

During this season of giving, Ralph Di Febo is trying to land a big gift for Forest Park. Di Febo has sent a proposal to the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation seeking $50,000 in seed money to fund feasibility studies to build a park and music venue on the Altenheim property. He is vying with other applicants to win the foundation's 2017 Big Idea Competition. The panel is soliciting ideas that would positively impact the area, transform the community and perhaps put a near west suburb on the map as a national leader. 

Di Febo sent a proposal to the foundation last year. It didn't win but received an Honorable Mention. This year's proposal carries more weight, as it contains a letter from Mayor Anthony Calderone supporting the idea of building a "mini-Ravinia" on the property. Mayor Calderone is proposing that the village's Civic Center Authority float a bond issue to finance the project. Di Febo noted that this was exactly how River Forest paid for the construction of its community center. 

"It's a tried and true plan," he said.

There's another wrinkle about this proposal. Last year, Di Febo partnered with the Forest Park Kiwanis Club to apply for the grant. This year, he is joining forces with the Historical Society of Forest Park, using their 501c3 status to be eligible for the competition. He sees the partnership as a good fit for developing a historic piece of property. 

The deadline for filing the proposal was Nov. 15. On Feb. 22, Di Febo and the other applicants will give presentations to the panel at The Wire in Berwyn. If Di Febo wins the grant, he believes the $50,000 could be used for engineering and architectural plans. He has noted a groundswell of support for the project among local residents at the public presentations he has given this year. The plan is also receiving support from village leaders, in particular commissioners Tom Mannix and Joe Byrnes.

Mayor Calderone favors the formation of an ad hoc committee to further study the proposal. Di Febo said it would be important for the committee to hear all sides, particularly from those opposed to the project. He noted that some of the residents of The Grove fear the venue would clog their community with traffic. However, Di Febo is proposing that no concert-goers will be allowed to enter The Grove on Van Buren Street. Only foot traffic would be allowed from Madison Street.

So far, he hasn't gotten any complaints about the impact of live music on the community. He has been consulting with the Talaske Group, the Oak Park-based engineers who designed the sound system for Millennium Park. He believes a delayed music system, with speakers overhead, would mitigate sound affecting nearby residents. 

Di Febo has also been consulting with music promoters. They have told him how money could be saved on "big ticket items" like the stage. They suggested a stage could be trucked in, like the Cubs did for their celebration at Grant Park. 

Even without a concert venue, the value of property would be improved by the changes Di Febo is proposing. These include demolishing the decrepit buildings on the property, improving access and drainage and constructing a half-mile walking path. The path would have a permeable surface of crushed granite that would be kind to the feet and good for drainage and the environment.

He believes the creation of a park and music venue would not just benefit Forest Park. It would be a boon to Oak Park and other communities that could use access to more green space. With the park being so close to public transportation, it wouldn't create traffic woes. Di Febo noted that he has lived half his life in River Forest and the other half in Forest Park and that it would great for both communities.

Di Febo has so many ideas for the venue buzzing in his head, he wakes up in the middle of the night and writes them down. He was thinking that, aside from public money, they would also do aggressive fundraising from private foundations. He envisioned some grass-roots fundraising as well by allowing residents to purchase memorial bricks to line the walking path. 

"Forest Parkers are crazy about bricks," he noted. "Their names would be on the bricks and they would be part of the legacy of the community." 

A venue that would put Forest Park on the map as a national leader, he said, would certainly be a lasting legacy.

Reader Comments

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Jeff Brousard from FP  

Posted: December 10th, 2016 10:02 AM

Development will always have an affect on some. However positive development like this is good for the overall community. It can only add to the thriving neighborhood in which we live. So get out there, pick up a few cans and meet your neighbors!

Pam Fontana  

Posted: December 9th, 2016 9:25 AM

To the Residents at the Grove; news flash, the Altenheim property is not a forest preserve. It is PRIVATE PROPERTY and can be developed much in the same way as the Residences at the Grove was developed. There was never any expectation of nothing ever being built across the road from you. Sorry but that is the reality.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 8th, 2016 3:46 PM

Here we go with all the NIMBY complaints.

Anita Sanders from Forest Park  

Posted: December 8th, 2016 2:07 PM

I live at The Residents at the Grove and am concerned about all of the noise and foot traffic that this will cause. "Grooving in the Grove" is enough, at least they leave by 10pm. I live on the corner & there is usually paper or bottles left on my grass when the concert is over. I do not think that this is a good idea to have this type of venue this close to our residence.

Gretchen Colavito from Forest Park  

Posted: December 7th, 2016 7:20 PM

I am curious if this plan has taken into consideration the residents that live along and on North Jackson Blvd, which is where I live. Our streets and alleys lead straight into the Altenheim space. The events that are held in the Grove are an inconvenience with loud music and attendees that park in the streets and in front of my house. I appreciate it that this plan appears to be considering the music aspect, but I'm not satisfied that they are dealing with the parking issue and the impact of hundreds (thousands?) of attendees walking through my neighborhood? Even if they take the el, they would still be walking in my neighborhood either to hit the bars or get to the el. I already have to deal with the bars in my area and their customers, I'm concerned that this is just going to add to that nuisance. Thank you.

Henry Kranz from Oak Park  

Posted: December 7th, 2016 1:00 PM

Great coverage of the potential impact The Big Idea can have for our community. One correction: finalists this year have yet to be determined by the Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy. And, only finalists will be pitching their ideas at our February 22 Big Idea Pitch Party. Finalists are expected to be announced by this weekend!

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