A group of residents who have named themselves the Friends of Elgin are taking a proactive approach to improving not only their neighborhood, but the southern position of Forest Park.
“We did not want to be complainers and bring out only the negatives,” Gretchen Schwartz, a resident of the 1500 block of Elgin Avenue, said. “We said to ourselves: how can we make some changes in a positive manner?”
The group was born somewhat randomly and casually in the summer when Linda Moore, who moved from Oak Park to the 1500 block of Elgin about a year ago, approached Schwartz with some concerns.
“I watched how Forest Park was developing,” Moore said. “I wanted to become active in the community through working with other residents and making a positive difference. So, Gretchen and I passed out flyers and polled some of the residents on our block, and we found many of them were interested in the same issues we were.”
The first whisperings of southern Forest Park’s voice was in the works, and now the loose knit group has 10 regular participants and an estimated 25 others have shown an interest.
After a safety issue regarding speeding cars was quickly taken care of by the police department, the Friends of Elgin decided to tackle a much larger and more complicated issue: the commercial redevelopment of southern Forest Park, specifically Roosevelt Road.
“We want to know what the plan is for south Forest Park along Roosevelt Road since it has so much potential,” Moore said. “I look at Madison Street and Oak Park, and I think south Forest Park has the same potential. It would be nice to have some restaurants, shops and other businesses to come to this part of the village.”
The redevelopment of these neighborhoods is an issue that village officials have discussed, according to Mayor Anthony Calderone and village Commissioner Patrick Doolin.
“I’ve given plenty of thought to the beautification of Roosevelt,” Calderone said. “That’s always been one of the main issues and next on the list. But, such a process cannot just happen overnight. It requires time.”
Doolin agreed there is a real possibility in reconstructing southern Forest Park.
“[The redevelopment of Roosevelt] is an issue for the village,” Doolin said, though he admitted he was not aware of the Elgin organization. “It is our secondary business district, so attention needs to and should be paid to it.
Exactly how that might take shape is unclear , Doolin said, since no one is focused specifically on the issue.
“The village of Forest Park has very limited resources on staff,” Doolin said. “We have no point person for economic or community development. These are issues that need to be addressed.”
In the meantime, Doolin spoke of several preparatory steps the residents of southern Forest Park could take.
Though unaware of the Friends of Elgin organization, Main Street’s Assistant Director Kathleen Hanrahan also expressed an interest in the redeveloping the southern end of the village.
“Any area of Forest Park is a consideration [for redevelopment with Main Street],” Hanrahan said.
The small, but driven group of residents is garnering a following outside of the 1500 block. Other southern residents have shown an interest and attended some of the meetings. The mayor recently agreed to attend the group’s meeting on Nov. 6.
“We are so new that we thought it would be just our block,” Moore said. “But now it is all of south Forest Park, giving us more voices. Hopefully, we can get more accomplished.”