For a number of reasons the energy and spark of Madison Street’s success trails off once you move west of Desplaines Avenue. There is a different mix of commercial uses, more offices and services, a car wash. There is the municipal divide with the south side of Madison being Forest Park while the north side is River Forest. And there is the lack of any attractive and cohesive streetscaping that would tie this segment of Madison to its more vital stretch to the east.
Well, at least two of those chronic woes are about to be overcome as Forest Park and River Forest have just worked collaboratively to win a heavily sought grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
So check off the municipal separation as two towns which have never much focused on this orphan stretch of Madison have worked successfully together to get this $1.34 million grant. Forest Park Village Administrator Tim Gillian credits the village’s part-time Springfield lobbyist with carrying the water on this effort. And Eric Palm, the River Forest administrator, readily credits Forest Park’s leadership with winning the day on this effort.
Every municipality which sets aside taxpayer dollars for a state capital lobbyist faces skeptics. There is the pervasive distrust of state politics and its dealmaking ways. There’s the objection that we elect state reps and senators to bring the bacon home to the district so why do we need a lobbyist in the first place. Then there is the reality that it is often difficult to measure the success of a lobbyist as they deal with a range of issues.
So, when the local lobbyist puts a run on the board, as seems clearly the case here, you can expect the decision makers who backed their hiring to do a bit of boasting. That’s fine and fair.
Soon you’ll also be able to set aside the non-descript bordering on decrepit physical appearance of West Madison as a drawback. We are supporters of government streetscaping projects as one important aspect of economic development. But in isolation even the nicest streetscape project won’t turn a moribund commercial area.
The gratifying success of the rest of Madison Street over the past 15 years certainly keyed off the significant investment in streetscape amenities. But those fancy lights and flower planters were matched by strategic public and private investments in key parcels, by the intense energy of entrepreneurs, by the creation of the Main Street program, by fun and creative marketing and events.
As Forest Park and River Forest cooperated on winning the grant for the physical reinvention of West Madison, now all hands need to be on deck to make sure all the other elements of success are ready to go, too.
This is a big win and Forest Park village government gets the credit. Now let’s multiply the win with strategic business retention and recruiting, by extending events across the Desplaines Avenue divide, by maximizing the public use of the Altenheim property and finding a worthy developer for the eyesore that the old Hines Lumber property has become.