Almost 20 years ago in 1995, the village of Forest Park started a project to shape up Madison Street, which at the time was a strip dominated by aging watering holes and antique shops. The village partnered with an Evanston company, Business Districts Inc., to roll out a plan to partner, first with an Illinois Main Street program, then with a Chicago-area transportation group.
There at the start was consultant Bridget Lane, a Harvard Business School grad who’s been working with municipalities to attract the right businesses and development for decades.
At their Oct. 14 meeting, the village signed a $15,300 agreement with Lane and Business Districts Inc. for consulting work to bring more economic development to Forest Park.
“Over the years, we’ve claimed a role in getting Forest Park to what it is,” Lane said Monday. “We’re very proud of that one. We pointed them to Main Street,” she said.
“I remember it was a big job to re-do Madison and the removal of cars from the street.”
Lane was also part of a group of subcontractors, under the umbrella of the company Teska, who applied in April 2012 for the work of crafting the village’s comprehensive plan. That task went to Images Inc., then of Wheaton. Lane’s company has worked to help business districts in LaGrange, Lombard, Olympia Fields and Villa Park. When Lane spoke to the village council in April 2012, she suggested the transportation nexus of Forest Park was a good place to think about an office building.
Many of the services offered by BDI duplicate those offered by Images Inc. in the comprehensive plan, on a smaller scale.
The new agreement, which will kick in Oct. 22, provides for workshops, surveys, a regional market analysis and other evaluations of the resources, marketplaces and aspirations of the village.
“We hope to give businesses and customers in Forest Park a way to connect better,” Lane said.
BDI will interview stakeholders, including real estate brokers, merchants, restaurateurs and property owners, to capture trends and perceptions.
They will also focus on both the Madison Street business district and Roosevelt Road, Lane said. The analysis will be sorted into the “pedestrian access” market (within a half-mile by foot), the “convenience market” (five minutes by car), and the “15-minute destination market.”
The team will create a Survey Monkey tool to find out perceptions of Forest Park, advertised through the village website and newsletter, as well as social media.
Working with the Chamber of Commerce, BDI will encourage business owners to ask customers to fill out the survey on their phones.
The company will offer a workshop for businesses offering 50 practical tools to increase profits. The company will also compare Forest Park to three “peer” communities and make recommendations of ways Forest Park could emulate other marketing efforts.
Lane says she’s a Forest Park booster because she moved to town a couple of years ago.
Forest Park businesses are concerned about competition from Berwyn and Oak Park, but they don’t realize what a unique business community exists in Forest Park, she said. She gave an example of Italian restaurants at different price points within walking distance.
“You’ve got Gaetano’s to Jimmy’s on one street. You just don’t find that anywhere,” she said.
The BDI proposal offers an “investment potential review” that will use commercial sale data to give an analysis of typical investor costs and potential returns that come with new construction and property upgrades in Forest Park.
The company will help Forest Park work on marketing and branding campaigns. The company will provide an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) for Forest Park.
The company will then present a workshop on the status and future of Madison Street and Roosevelt Road, and then present a report to the village council.
Lane said Monday her company helps businesses put their heads together to improve the experience for the customer.
“We try to get businesses to work together and build a common vision to emphasize the uniqueness of each business,” she said. One example is to create uniform hours in the business district to make the entire district customer-friendly.
“Main Street businesses really have a connection with their customers. A main street is an easier place to do business than a mall today,” she added.