Someday the federal government will get around to off-loading the underused, nearly forgotten seven acre parcel of land it owns on Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. Maybe it will happen next year if the massive cuts to the military budget mandated by the failure of the un-super Super Committee of Congress actually grab hold. But sooner or later there will be a push to consolidate military land holdings and the Army Reserve site in our burg will turn up on a list of land to be sold off.
To its credit the village government has been anticipating such a welcome development for several years. Recently it secured grant funding to underwrite a planning process for the future use of this prime parcel. Fronting Roosevelt Road, adjacent to current retail, the site offers intriguing opportunities for some mix of retail, residential and commercial development.
And while under the current economy any development seems like a long shot, the beauty of this is that we are looking at a long-term plan. When the government sheds the parcel, when the economy turns, the village of Forest Park will be ready with a, we expect, thoughtful plan.
Monday evening, a range of residents and local officials – village council members as well as zoning and plan commissioners – heard a very early assessment of possibilities from the two consultants hired by the village.
Here’s what we heard that encouraged us:
The discussion is taking place in a broader context of what positive change can be created for all of Roosevelt Road. Everyone recognizes both the power and the failings of this major commercial street. It generates a lot of sales and property taxes. Yet it feels disjointed and somewhat disconnected from the overall village. A greener, more pedestrian focused project at the Army Reserve site could benefit all of Roosevelt.
Integrating the future development with the residential portion of Forest Park south of Roosevelt is an exciting opportunity. This is a Forest Park neighborhood that often rightly feels itself an afterthought in town. There are many ways to use this planning process to reconnect this neighborhood.
Given the shuddering changes at hand with the U.S. Postal Service, incorporating the likely closure of the bulk mail facility which abuts the Army Reserve is both wise and exciting.
Some caution was expressed about merely recruiting more big box retailers. We second that caution. Big box can be great until one day when it vanishes.
This parcel is part of a TIF district on Roosevelt. We have mixed views on TIFs but clearly it is a tool if it is used properly and with transparency.
Monday’s meeting was a fine start to a long conversation. Residents, especially those south of the Ike and south of Roosevelt, need to step up actively into this process. And officials need to involve and welcome them.