First of all, nice work by the village of Forest Park in securing a $2.3 million grant from the state of Illinois for work on Roosevelt Road. These grants don’t come easy and credit is due to Mayor Anthony Calderone and village staff for making the case for Forest Park.
Coupled with the expansion of TIF districts on Roosevelt, the village government is putting together the necessary pieces of both immediate and mid-term funding for a reimagined Roosevelt Road. But more funding is going to be needed along with a more thoroughgoing plan for the street. We urge that the discussions on planning be public and inclusive.
While the focus of attention in Forest Park is typically on the fortunes of Madison Street, its commercial ebbs and flows, its essential nature as the village’s downtown and gathering spot, the reality is that Roosevelt Road is the commercial engine of the village with its car dealerships, Walmart and Forest Park Mall. The sales and property taxes thrown off by Roosevelt Road far eclipse Madison Street.
Calderone and other village officials, including Commissioner Rory Hoskins, have long understood the opportunity to build on the inelegant success of Roosevelt. We have credited Calderone regularly for the long game he has played in seeking to influence if not control the eventual remaking of the Army Reserve facility on Roosevelt as well as the Postal Services bulk mail facility. Neither of those land-gobbling uses will be in place forever and how they are remade will be critical to Forest Park.
That’s why while it is exciting to get this grant which is designated for streetscape and beautification, we’d say that such work is just a small part of what is needed on the street. As decades have gone by and millions have been sunk into brick pavers and fancy lighting in various towns we report on, we’ve come to see streetscape as successful only when paired with other business building efforts.
For instance, in the village’s press release on this grant, Calderone points to efforts of Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero in improving the dismal look of Roosevelt Road from Harlem to Austin. Yes, that portion of the street does look better though two years in some elements of that streetscape are already looking somewhat tattered. But the real story here is the ongoing success that Berwyn has made of its side of Roosevelt while the Oak Park side still looks fairly derelict and uninspired. That is because Berwyn has a TIF district and has used it effectively to lure key businesses – Culver’s, Wire and others – while Oak Park has no such economic development tool.
Our point is that the streetscape will be nice, although challenging given the width of the street. But the magic will come in potentially using TIF dollars to wrangle a new use for the shuttered Jerry Gleason car dealership, snagging the military facility or remaking some of the substandard housing on the north side of the street.
The news is good. The execution is critical.