Park Service gets involved in Culture Park process

Liaison makes appearance at village council meeting

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing Reporter

After three months of relative inactivity, the wheels on the effort to create a cultural park in Forest Park have started turning again.

Mike Mencarini of the National Park Service appeared at the Forest Park Village Council meeting Monday to provide an overview of how his organization will assist the effort to create a cultural park for year-round use on village-owned property near the Altenheim Retirement Home at Madison and Van Buren streets.

He told village officials he plans a two-phase outreach to solicit input from Forest Park residents and stakeholders on the proposal.

The Park Service in October awarded the village a technical assistance grant from the agency's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) branch to help officials create the cultural park.

Mayor Anthony Calderone noted that the RTCA grant is not a monetary grant. Instead, the park service will provide technical assistance during the federal fiscal year to village officials as they move forward. The federal fiscal year began in October and will end in September.

"My focus will be to solicit feedback from stakeholder organizations and community residents on what outdoor recreation or park/green space amenities they would like to see at the proposed site as well as what they believe the opportunities and concerns are for the proposal," Mencarini said, noting that proposals discussed previously have included a music venue.

"My assistance for this project will focus specifically on the outdoor recreation and park/green space opportunities that are associated with the cultural park proposal," he added. "The overall proposal contains other recommendations, but I will be focused only on gathering community feedback on the recreation/green space aspects of the plan."

The first phase will be to meet in the spring with seven or eight stakeholder organizations to solicit feedback.

Mencarini identified the Park District of Forest Park, the Historical Society of Forest Park, the West Cook YMCA, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, the Altenheim community, and the Forest Park Arts Council as examples of stakeholder organizations, but he indicated other organizations might be added to the list.

The second phase will be to solicit resident feedback at outdoor events during the summer, such as the School District 91's All-School Picnic in May or Music Fest in July.

Mencarini explained that he plans to appear at such events with two poster boards, one listing possible features and amenities and the other a blank space for comments. For the first, he said he will have stickers marked with opinions, ranging from positive to negative, that residents will be asked to use to indicate which features or amenities they prefer to see and vice versa. For the second, he said he would provide small squares of paper with adhesive to residents to express opinions or make additional comments.

He also is considering bringing the poster boards to the Forest Park Public Library or a park district facility for a day.

Mencarini said he plans to provide a report to the village no later than September, which is the end of the park service's fiscal year.

In response to a question from Commissioner Joseph Byrnes, Calderone indicated he hoped to keep together an ad-hoc committee, formed by Ralph DiFebo and other village residents to create the cultural park proposal, but left the door open to a separate planning team or steering committee.

"We might form a new group or we might keep the existing committee," Calderone said. "I need to talk to Ralph."

The village bought the 11-acre property for $3.6 million in 2001. Over the years, several ideas for development, including from Fenwick High School and the West Cook YMCA, were eventually scrapped. 

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