My favorite color is green. I’ll admit it. I’m a tree hugger, a conservationist and a member of the Sierra Club. So, there. I’m out of the closet . . . as if you didn’t already know.
Green is my bias and that will help you understand the following comments about the possibility of the YMCA moving to Forest Park. Scott Gaalaas, the President and CEO of the YMCA now located in Oak Park stated, “Our board is very serious [about locating in Forest Park]. We have made an offer to purchase 6.2 acres, approximately the south half of the property owned by the Village of Forest Park [a.k.a. the Altenheim property].
But when I pressed him about green issues like the size of the parking lot or the possibility of underground parking, his response was, “Since we are in the midst of negotiations it would be inappropriate to answer many of your questions. The entire building would be fully ADA accessible and could have soccer and softball fields for youth.”
So, what follows is what I think.
1. I’m a supporter of the YMCA moving to Forest Park. I would prefer to keep the Altenheim grounds completely green, but if someone is going to develop part of the property, I would prefer to have the Y there than a strip mall or even town houses. I drove past the McAdam facility near the corner of Desplaines Avenue and Cermak Road the other day and appreciated how nice the property looked. I would have rather had the property made into a park with a canoe access to the river, but I’d sure rather have McAdam at one of the gateways to our community than a currency exchange.
That having been said, I would still want my village to push the Y to make some assurances regarding green space. I would like Mr. Gaalaas to change his language from “could” have soccer and softball fields to “will” have them. I would like him to plan for underground or overhead parking to reduce the amount of green being covered by black. I would like the Y to talk about creating a bicycle trailhead and a bridge over the Desplaines River (using the railroad right of way). And I would like to see plans to create, together with the village, a wood chip covered walking path around the perimeter of the entire Altenheim property.
2. The site I favor for the relocation of the YMCA to Forest Park, however, is the place where the Roos Building now stands. I couldn’t believe it when I read in the Review that the developer was backing out. It felt like an answer to my prayers. What amazing synergistic possibilities we would have with a YMCA at Circle and Harrison and the Park District immediately to the north.
Dave Novak, the direct of the Park District, said that he doesn’t see the Y as competition. Rather he sees the Park and the Y as complementing each other. For example, he said that the Park features swimming in the summer, and the indoor pool at the Y would be used more in the cold months. The Y, of course, would have to build up instead of out, and underground parking would probably be a necessity instead of an option. And that costs money. But the transformation of Madison Street, the construction of the new library and the opening of the new pool at the Park a few years ago reveal that the people of this village can produce the funding if the vision is right.
3. I learned something in my discussions with pro-development people over the years. Their favorite color is green, too. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a profit. The problem is not with developers. The problem is with us, or, more precisely, the problem is ours to figure out.
Admittedly, the construction of new condos and town homes”and the building of a new YMCA”in our village is and will be like a rising tide that lifts many boats.
The problem with tides is that they can go both ways. Whether you are being carried to the beach or out to sea, either way it feels like you are making good time. My worry, is that we can get caught up in the recent tide of development so much, that we mistake going fast for getting where we want to go.
One reason why I have a bias towards green is that I believe that conserving green space in our community not only gives us nature, but in the long run it increases the value of the homes of those who stay around for the long haul. I’ll bet you that the preservation of green space in Forest Park will make the value of your home go up faster than the building of town homes. And that’s money in your pocket instead of in the developer’s.
In other words, thinking green is good for making green. Just ask the merchants in the Loop if the preservation of green space between Michigan Avenue and the Lake has been good for business.
One more thought. The relocation of the YMCA from Oak Park to Forest Park would make the residents of that village to the east of us green with envy.
Every once in awhile, that feels kind of nice.