Commissioner Chris Harris has called a town hall meeting for later this month to have a good and public discussion about two notable pieces of village owned property – the multiple acres of open space at the old Altenheim site and the burned-out two-flat sitting across from village hall.
Neither Mayor Anthony Calderone nor Village Administrator Tim Gillian are happy about this turn of events. Open discussion does not fit Calderone’s management style, which relies on the old-fashioned notion of controlling information and then, in due time, making pronouncements. And neither of them is a fan of mere commissioners getting out of line. Not surprisingly, we applaud Harris’ initiative in pulling back the drapes and letting a little light into the mysterious state of discussions about these two very different properties.
Let’s start with this salient point. We have been cheerleaders for the mayor in the acquisition of both of these properties.
Buying – well, financing with debt really – the Altenheim property to prevent it from being overdeveloped as townhouses or apartments was one of the earliest and boldest moves of the nascent Calderone administration more than a decade ago. We supported it then and we support it now. This property, one of the last notable parcels of open land in town, has to have a higher purpose than becoming a gaggle of condominiums.
And Calderone and Gillian showed considerable savvy when they maneuvered a national bank into handing over the deed to the burned-out brick two-flat at 512 Desplaines Ave. It is a good property for the village to control although the mayor readily acknowledged that the village did not have the financial resources to renovate it immediately.
So here we are 10 years in at the Altenheim with years lost to ultimately failed negotiations with the West Cook YMCA to build on the property and two years into discussions with Fenwick High School to buy the property for athletic fields, and now it seems possible for some sort of stadium. (Stadiums seem all the rage for Catholic prep schools. Look at Loyola Academy and listen to the plans coming out of St. Ignatius.)
On Desplaines Avenue, Calderone had the intriguing-but-impossible notion of the fragile Forest Park Historical Society taking on the restoration of the torched two-flat. Nice thought, but the historical society doesn’t have two nickels to rub together.
That brings us to the public meeting called by Harris, a duly elected official of the Village of Forest Park and the titular head of the Public Property Department under the village’s outdated commissioner form of government. He has rightly invited Calderone to attend and to offer updates on both projects. If the mayor ever finds the time to read Harris’ email (yeah, right!) he’d be smart to attend.
It doesn’t hurt to share information. It helps. It helps people understand the possibilities and the complexities. It allows new ideas and perspectives to be heard. It is the right thing to do in a democratic system.
And honestly, we’d like to know if Fenwick really wants to build some sort of stadium before a joint press release is issued from on high. A running track and some practice fields are one thing. A notable structure, traffic and – what, lights? – are a different kettle of fish.
Come on, Mr. Mayor, accept the invitation, bring citizens up to date, welcome the input.