There are many ways to grow community. One of Forest Park's most successful efforts has been the Community Garden. Almost a decade old, this simple project has transformed an overlooked sliver of public land along Harlem Avenue into a verdant gathering of gardeners.
It started small with 10 garden plots. But organically both flowers and vegetables grew along with friendships that can sometimes be hard to forge in an urban suburb. A couple of years later, with active support from the village government, the site was expanded to 54 plots, a fence and, critically, a water source.
This growing season, with demand rising, each of the 54 plots is tended independently by neighbors from Forest Park, Oak Park, River Forest and environs. A longtime partnership with the Community Center helps stock its food pantry with fresh-grown produce in these summer months.
Credit goes to the volunteer leaders of this small movement, Jessica Rinks and Gina Thomas. They have nurtured something special here. Also though, in what is very special in Forest Park, there has been quiet, steady support from the village government. A big deal is not made, formal commissions are not formed, but problems get solved, help is offered and received.
Well done all around.
Sales tax givebacks
A small town without home-rule power lacks the endless tools for economic development that a bigger burg might have. But towns like Forest Park use what they have and, in this town's case, spurring economic development has often been some version of a sales tax giveback.
In Forest Park such givebacks have been used to lure a news business — the Walgreen's at Roosevelt and Harlem, for instance — or to retain an existing business: Currie Motors on Roosevelt Road. The deals differ in amount, length and terms but always involve the village government handing back a portion of the local sales tax to a business as an incentive to win its business.
The Review always reports on these deals, which always are approved in public session. Recently we reported on just such a pact with the owners of the new Living Fresh Market in the Forest Park mall. Frankly, though, we often lose track of them once they are in place.
Sifting through last week's densely number- and fact-packed Review news story on the passage of its annual appropriation ordinance, we noted that two of these development deals have successfully come to their intended conclusion. Over eight years, Currie Motors received $1.25 million in sales tax rebates. Bed Bath and Beyond's rebate deal took 13 years to be fulfilled with that Harlem Avenue retailer receiving $385,000 in sales tax rebates.
The good news is that both those businesses continue in operation, paying property taxes, and now, throwing off sales tax revenues that will actively benefit the village.