Motorists who drive west along Forest Park’s prized business strip will notice that the faux antique street lights, which are an important part of the Madison Street look, end at Desplaines Avenue. That Madison Street’s makeover of several years ago doesn’t extend to their front door is symbolic for many business owners on the western edge of town.
The Chamber of Commerce and Development, and the municipality, have not paid them the same attention, they say.
But that may be changing.
The chamber leadership has turned its focus to communicating they are ready to walk the walk when it comes to business development for the whole village. This message is also being extended to those entrepreneurs along Roosevelt Road. In a pair of meetings this month between business and community leaders, those with the ability to effect change along Roosevelt Road and the western portion of Madison Street heard from the stakeholders directly.
On March 10, River Forest President Frank Paris and that community’s Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez sat down with community leaders here to discuss possible streetscape improvements and other measures to drum up publicity for those businesses that’ve been left out of the renaissance.
“What’s good for Forest Park is good for River Forest,” Paris said.
Commissioner Mark Hosty and Village Administrator Mike Sturino represented the village and discussed options for streetscape improvements in the area of Madison Street that borders with River Forest. Sturino said the village does have design guidelines for improvements such as the brick planters, but that local government does not have the money to improve the streetscape alone.
“There needs to be a buy in by stakeholders,” Sturino said.
Hosty agreed, saying that the village could offer incentives for cooperation, but that business owners have to “work in tandem” with the local government.
Joe Locke, a member of M2 and the chamber who initiated the process to brand Madison Street three years ago, encouraged the business owners to copy M2’s cooperative advertising campaign, which has improved the bottom line of many businesses located between Harlem and Desplaines.
That there were only four businesses represented at the meeting frustrated Famous Liquors owner Peter Schwarzbach. He acknowledged that “the momentum is not rolling yet” for widespread change in the district.
The chamber’s economic development committee repeated the scenario on March 19 at the Roosevelt Road branch of the Forest Park National Bank, this time with business owners on that thoroughfare. Two residents joined the seven business owners present, and were vocal in listing problems they felt were not being addressed by the village and the chamber.
Bill Porayko from Windy City Mortgage said that pedestrians put their lives at risk when crossing Roosevelt Road, even at the traffic lights. Hosty and Sturino acknowledged the danger and said it inhibits foot traffic between businesses. However, because Roosevelt Road is a state highway, any changes will come under the state’s jurisdiction.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian suggested that pedestrian islands in the middle of the street might make crossing the street less dangerous. Hosty said he is looking for grant money to help fund such streetscape improvements.
Marian Antinori from Eck Heating complained about parking, an issue that was also raised at the March 10 meeting and has been a chronic issue in Forest Park. Antinori said she was also frustrated by how dirty the street continues to be.
“I’ve written Mayor [Anthony] Calderone about it, but nothing has happened,” Antinori said.
Chris Germond from Harlem Art Galleries agreed that the street could be better taken care of. Sturino and Hosty empathized but said, again that the Illinois Department of Transportation remains in charge.
“That is the reason we can’t close off Roosevelt Road for something like Summerfest,” the chamber’s Director Laurie Kokenes said. “We don’t have the authority to make those kinds of decisions.”