The board of directors for the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce is considering a merger with the Main Street organization after meeting earlier this month to discuss goals for the coming year.
The concept isn’t a new one, President Mark Hosty said, and parallels between the chamber and Main Street bring this idea back to the fore every so often.
“I see it as more of an exercise to focus their mission and focus their goals,” Hosty said of any merger talks between the two groups.
But at their annual planning meeting on Feb. 1, there seemed to be a consensus among the 12 board members that the chamber needs to hash out its relationship with Main Street. The board noted examples of successful joint ventures such as the golf outing, French Market and Pride Awards during its discussion.
Although the board acknowledged the two organizations have distinct missions, the competition for funding, combined with an overlap in sponsored activities and membership, raised questions about the efficiency of having two organizations serve the same business community.
“Every year we talk about our missions,” Executive Director Laurie Kokenes said. “On the one hand Main Street and the chamber each have a different focus. On the other hand there is a lot of overlap.”
Main Street President Art Sundry and Assistant Director Kathleen Hanrahan did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The board also concluded that after the recent waves of resident protest, the village council is hesitant to take leadership on the issue of adding more parking spaces along Madison Street.
Village Administrator Mike Sturino said that although the council had originally directed him to create a plan to increase parking, during a subsequent closed session meeting, commissioners changed their minds. He has received no further direction from elected officials, Sturino said.
“We want to take leadership in the effort to address the parking problem by offering possible suggestions as a way of pushing the village to find an acceptable solution,” Kokenes said.
According to Kokenes, there are many tactics available to the chamber short of acquiring new property. For example, if business owners could find a way to motivate employees to park their cars off of Madison Street, more spaces would be free, she said. Partnerships with businesses that have larger parking lots could be forged as well, making those spaces available.
Hosty, however, said borrowing from business owners doesn’t create a permanent solution.
“The parking problems in Forest Park can not be solved with the parking stock we have today,” Hosty said.
Hosty also serves as a village commissioner and noted the lack of visible support from proprietors in recent months for the village’s proposal to buy up residential lots to create new spaces. More than likely, he said, entrepreneurs were afraid of alienating their customers over a contentious issue. By having the chamber serve as the face of this initiative, it may take some heat off of individual retailers, Hosty said.
Chamber members also discussed the need to reach out to businesses located away from Madison Street. Over the years, the complaint from those on Roosevelt Road and other commercial areas is that the chamber only focuses on Madison Street. Kokenes said addressing this issue comes down to communication, and maybe it is time to meet with entrepreneurs along Roosevelt Road.
Kokenes also stated, however, that what is good for the main business corridor is good for Forest Park. That, she said, is part of what could be communicated in one-on-one meetings with business owners who are not chamber members.
Editor Josh Adams contributed to this report.