Timing, so we’ve heard, is everything and Forest Park is right on cue with a wiser take on its zoning regulations along Madison. The street, from Harlem on the east to Park Avenue on the west, has been designated as the town’s downtown business district. It is along this stretch that retailers and eateries will be encouraged to flourish, and over the last few years Forest Park has had great success.
Madison Street just exploded during the boom times of property development and soaring values, giving all of us a sense of the entrepreneurs that may be attracted to our little town. The recession is thinning the herd a bit, and now we can all see which businesses are strongest. Remarkable, really, that in a few short years the business district has witnessed such an intense swing. From the standpoint of zoning, we’ve gained some real insight in how the plans we make translate in the real world.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian deserves a lot of credit for seizing this opportunity and pushing business community representatives to meet with him every week for more than a month. Zoning isn’t particularly sexy, but it sets the foundation. On Dec. 7, the zoning board of appeals is expected to take a look at the regulations that help decide which businesses got a spot on the block.
To highlight the importance of this effort, take a walk past the now vacant storefront that has been home to Trage Bros. appliance store. The slumping economy puts pressure on everyone to find tenants, but it would be an enormous setback to install a large scale physician office group, for instance, in this space. The zoning changes being proposed by Gillian and the business community would make it harder to settle for a less desirable tenant.
Furthermore, sales taxes will become increasingly important over the next several years. The proposed zoning amendment renews the emphasis on retail, which should help the village better cover its expenses.
There’s a lot to be pleased with in this proposal, but there’s one part that has us scratching our heads. Circle Theatre, that haven of organic creativity, that beacon which beckons to audiences far and wide, that pivotal piece of Madison Street’s revival, could be pushed out of town under this ordinance. What gives?
Forest Park, for all its growth, can’t support Madison Street by itself. We need shoppers and diners to come here from other communities and spend their money. For almost two decades now, Circle Theatre has given those folks a reason to find Forest Park.
But the theater’s lease expires at the end of October 2010, and the owner of its building at 7300 Madison has set his sights on creating a small hotel. It seems unlikely that Circle Theatre will be able to stay put, and if theaters are struck from the list of desired businesses within the district, Forest Park will have hastened the exit of one of its most important assets.