The Village of Forest Park hopes a new grant from the Regional Transportation Association (RTA) will help develop a plan for the Harlem Avenue corridor between the CTA Green Line at Circle Avenue and the CTA Blue Line Harlem stop at the I-290.

Mayor Anthony Calderone announced at Monday’s village council meeting that the village received a $3,000 grant from the RTA and the Urban Land Institute to start a “discussion” about how developers potentially see the strip.

As many Forest Parkers know, one of the village’s appeals is its location in a transportation nexus with access to two CTA train stations, a bus line and the Eisenhower Expressway.

Harlem Avenue is a hodgepodge of both residential and commercial business, some of which have seen better days. The RTA/ULI project helps local municipalities craft Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plans that take advantage of the natural residential and commercial attractions of transit lines.

In the case of Harlem Avenue, said RTA Project Manager Tony Manno, the whole strip is a transit magnet.

“We usually make a TOD zone that’s about a quarter to half a mile around a train station, but in this case, there’s a whole corridor because Harlem Avenue is such a strong bus route,” he said.

The grant is a way for municipalities to pick the brains of regional developers, who volunteer their time to look the area over and then give their opinions about the best land use for the region that fully takes advantage of the area’s transportation hubs.

“We look at how a municipality can create a cohesive mix of residential uses, retail commercial and sometimes even office uses,” Manno said.

As the village awakens from the economic recession and also crafts its comprehensive plan for land use, the possibilities for developing the area are starting to emerge. The grant will give the village some professional guidance, the mayor said in a press release.

“It’s terrific they will be providing the village with free professional insight,” Calderone said.

One possible arrangement would be another TIF district on Harlem Avenue to create a way for the village to provide tax incentives to developers to come to Forest Park along the Harlem strip, Manno said.

The strip includes the lot at the corner of Madison and Harlem, which has been vacant for several years. It was purchased by developer Jay Javors, who has local ties and who also owns the building that housed the now-shuttered Fiorenza restaurant.

Forest Park was one of ten communities to receive the grants, which have been given out for three years. Others included Bellwood, Fox Lake, Geneva, the Kane County Dept. 

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