They are kind of like dancing partners, the Forest Park Main Street Redevelopment Association and the Chamber of Commerce. They are two distinct entities which try to complement each other while staying headed in the same direction.
But concern among some Chamber board members that the two organizations might be stepping on each other’s toes led to an invitation to Main Street for the boards to meet on the morning of January 24 on the lower level of Village Hall.
Forest Park School District 91 Superintendent Randy Tinder led a process in which members of both boards were enabled to communicate with each other. What the participants discovered as the process moved along was that they knew each other pretty well. After all, several of those present belong to both organizations and even sat on both boards.
Everyone agreed that both groups shared the common purpose of making Forest Park a better place to work and live and that a strong business sector was a critical key to a high quality of life.
The process also surfaced some misconceptions. For example, both boards thought the other one had a lot of money. Also acknowledged was the stereotype that Main Street tends to be a suit and tie crowd (read wealthy bankers), while the Chamber is composed more of blue collar, roll up your sleeves types.
A look around the room, however, revealed more diversity than the stereotype allowed. There, representing the Chamber was Eric Fjelstad, a banker wearing a suit and tie. And, across from him sat Main Street’s Rick Paulson wearing a blue collar shirt and a pony tail.
After learning more about each other, the group chose three issues to discuss: Sponsorship, purpose and communication.
Everyone present acknowledged that the two groups are competing for the same volunteers and the same money grants from supportive businesses. Sal Ferrara was held up as an example of a Forest Park businessman who has invested huge amounts of resources into the community.
Art Jones from Main Street suggested that going back to doing some joint fundraising might encourage the members of both organizations to think of themselves as being on the same team rather than as competitors. Laurie Kokenes, the Chamber Director, added that improved communication would help.
A consensus was reached that the two organizations have separate, compatible and sometimes overlapping objectives. Joe Locke from Main Street put it this way: “Main Street brings businesses to Forest Park, and the Chamber keeps them here.”
Jerry Vanisi, Main Street’s president, said, “The Chamber’s role is to promote business and be apolitical in doing so. Main Street’s objective is development, i.e. to recruit businesses to town and be willing to get involved in politics to that end.”
There was also agreement that the focus of the Chamber is primarily the business sector, while that of Main Street is business and residential.
Those who had gathered agreed that improvements in communication had already begun by the very fact of meeting together.
Rob McAdam set the issue of “who gets the credit for an event” on the table. The discussion that followed revealed that there is an ongoing confusion among the residents of Forest Park as to who was responsible for putting on what event. Heidi Vance from the Chamber summarized the conclusion of the discussion by saying, “Who cares who gets the credit?”
The two boards closed the meeting with several decisions.
First, they will look to further enhance communication, possibly by holding one or two joint meetings a year.
The Chamber will seek to make available a chair at their board meetings for the president of Main Street, which Main Street already does for the chamber.
The Pride Awards will continue to be presented at Main Street’s annual meeting and the Chamber, along with the village, will continue to co-sponsor them.
Both boards will explore co-sponsoring one big event a year.
Also, M2″the independent business promotion group on Madison St. which already has representation on the Chamber board”will provide a liaison to Main Street.
Art Jones said what turned out to be the “last word” when he declared, “We have more in common than we have differences. And, if we have differences, let’s resolve them.”