Mayor Anthony Calderone delivered his 7th annual “State of the Village” address Tuesday afternoon, using the opportunity to commend those involved in the progress the village has made over the past few years and discuss future prospects for continued growth.
The speech was delivered at the monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Healy’s Westside, 7321 Madison St., to a crowd of about 50 local entrepreneurs, village officials, and other Forest Park power players. Calderone catered to the audience, spending most of the speech addressing issues important to the village’s business community.
“The state of our village is more than exciting, and the state of our village is more than vibrant, because it’s both exciting and vibrant,” said Calderone.
He commented on the greatly enhanced name recognition that the village has enjoyed since the revitalization of Madison Street began in the late 1990’s.
“There has not been a place I’ve been to or a person I’ve spoken to who is not familiar with Forest Park. Years ago, that was not the case,” he said.
Calderone pointed to the strength of retail development on Madison Street and in other areas of the village, using David Samuel, the fine menswear store that opened in the Forest Park Plaza at 7600 Roosevelt Road in November, as an example of an often overlooked off-Madison business.
When Calderone asked the crowd how many were familiar with the store, only about five hands were raised.
He encouraged the business community to get behind the upcoming French Market, which will return to Forest Park in May after a year off in 2005 and a disappointing season in 2004. The market will be operated on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout the summer at the village-owned parking lot at Circle Avenue and Madison Street.
“It’s a great draw … when we get people here they’ll experience the great ambiance we have and spend some money on the street,” he said.
He noted that prospects were looking good for another project likely to bring outsiders into town in droves, the relocation of the West Cook YMCA to the village-owned portion of the Altenheim property near Madison and Van Buren streets.
“Unless something terrible happens, the YMCA wants to make Forest Park its home,” Calderone said. He noted that he is aware of the increased crowds the YMCA would bring, but said that “if you ask me, that’s a good problem.”
Calderone described residential development in the village as “absolutely bursting,” noting that the village is beginning to deal with tear-downs, which not long ago were virtually unheard of in town.
He acknowledged that this rapid residential development has sparked some controversy among residents, the only time during his speech that he acknowledged any of the more unpleasant matters the village has dealt with this year.
“Nobody wants things to happen in their backyard, particularly if it’s going to negatively affect them,” he said. “But I don’t think (the development) has had any negative effects,” he said.
Calderone spent a significant portion of the speech discussing the village’s parking issues. He commended the Business Improvement District (BID) Committee for its work on the newly passed Downtown Business District zoning designation, which eliminates the requirement for Madison Street businesses to provide two parking spaces each, calling the previous parking requirement “outlandishly ridiculous.”
He mentioned the work currently being done to study the village’s parking needs in hopes of arriving at some solution, which could include one or more parking structures or additional surface lots. He said that he hoped that a study currently being conducted by the engineering firm R.H. Anderson would be completed within the next 60 days, and commented that the village is looking to secure more state funding for the project in addition to the $300,000 Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) grant secured through Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4) in March.
Addressing another concern shared by many in the room, Calderone said that the village would attempt to find a compromise in response to the recently passed Cook County smoking ban, which prohibits smoking in public establishments in the county but gives municipalities a year from the date of its passing to opt out with their own ordinance.
“My commitment to the business community is that the government will not take any action without including the business community…this is an issue that is clearly divided, and we’ll work toward reaching some compromise,” he said. At Monday’s council meeting, Calderone told a resident who asked about the topic that the village will eventually hold a public forum to get input from residents and business-owners.
He closed the address by quoting Forest Park Review Publisher Dan Haley, who expressed his wish that Oak Park would one day steal a business from Forest Park in a recent column in the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest.
Calderone said that, contrary to rumors, he has never approached an Oak Park businessperson and asked them to move to Forest Park.
“The climate here in Forest Park is about building it and they will come,” he said.