Three park board hopefuls at Tuesday’s Forest Park Middle School candidate forum agreed about one thing: The future of the park district will be dominated by the upcoming Roos building acquisition, which has been in the works for three years. On the longtime Forest Park tradition of July 4th fireworks and their cancellation this year, one candidate said he hoped they could be brought back in 2014.
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and the Forest Park Review co-sponsored the park district forum, which took place following the District 91 school board forum.
Three candidates are running for two commissioner spots on the park board. Incumbent John Doss is the current president of the park board. He is also director of Public Works for the village. Incumbent Sam Alonzo Sr., is a 39-year resident of Forest Park who is a longtime volunteer at park activities. Matthew Walsh, 20, is a college student and resident who ran unsuccessfully for village commissioner at age 18.
The Roos property was the largest issue discussed. The derelict, partially developed structure was a casualty of the real estate crash and has been in foreclosure proceedings. Originally purchased with a $4.5 million mortgage, the property will go to county auction Wednesday, to complete the foreclosure process.
“We are ready to move [on the Roos purchase],” Doss said during his remarks.
The three candidates agreed that the building would have to be reassessed after being open to weather for three years. It’s unclear whether any of the original structure will be architecturally sound enough to repurpose, the candidates agreed.
Alonzo said it would be important to re-poll residents to find out what uses they want for the property.
“We have to come back to the community and see what the community wants,” he said.
“We have a pressing need to build an indoor gym for volleyball and basketball leagues,” Doss said.
Walsh mentioned that he had done research about using a state grant to help pay for the redevelopment of the property, specifically building a gym. During the debate, Walsh compared the district’s plans for the Roos to their decision to 10 years previously when the park board decided to create the turf soccer fields that he later played on for many years. “I sat there in awe of what the park board was going to do with taxpayer money.
“The tumbling classes, the days at the pool, Little League and soccer play a crucial role in my connection to the village,” he said, adding that the future of the park would also include the new playground and the Softball Hall of Fame.
The candidates mostly agreed on the park board’s priorities. The only disagreement in the debate concerned the board’s cancellation of the 4th of July fireworks display.
“It was the hardest decision I made as a board member,” Doss said. “[The fireworks] cost a lot of money for a one-day event and we’ve outgrown the space. We’re trying to scale it back for a July 3 family event.”
Alonzo agreed, adding that because neighboring communities had cancelled their fireworks, the event grew and the park didn’t have the security to keep the event safe.
But Walsh stated that if he were elected, he would try to have the fireworks back in Forest Park by 2014.
“I want to get the fireworks back in the same way the South Side Irish parade was cancelled for a year because it was getting out of hand. It was a success for the past two years since it came back.
“Hopefully other towns will revisit cancelling their fireworks celebrations,” he added. “We could work with the police to have better patrols on Harrison Street.”
All three candidates said The Park had no interest in the 11-acre village-owned Altenheim property. They agreed the park board’s focus should be on the Roos development.