It takes time to put together complex projects. And in local government economic development and its frequent companion, Tax Increment Finance districts, are about the most complex.
Monday night the Forest Park village council gave final and unanimous approval to the creation of two TIF districts along Roosevelt Road. Yes, it has been a long time coming. But that is just fine. TIFs are complex, powerful and long-term tools to spur development and do not need to be rushed. Additionally, the long national recession was a time unlikely to yield any major new development projects. So the timing on this, just as the private marketplace reawakens, is excellent.
While long overlooked, the reality is that Roosevelt Road is already the commercial economic engine of Forest Park with Walmart, Ultra Foods, Walgreens, two auto dealers and the mall. (And don’t forget what appears to be the world’s busiest Portillo’s.) Investing more effort to gradually transform what over decades has become an irrational hodgepodge of apartment buildings, obsolete retail spaces and large parcels owned by federal agencies is an essential goal for our community.
Mayor Anthony Calderone gets credit for his long-term vision and planning to position Forest Park for the inevitable day when the federal government is no longer the largest property owner on the street. The U.S. Postal Service will shrink to the point that the Bulk Mail Center behind the mall becomes expendable property. And the U.S. Army property is eventually going to become excess property on some federal inventory and become available for private, taxpaying development. Parcels of that size in land-locked communities such as Forest Park are gold.
Over many years we have become less enamored of public streetscape projects as standalone spurs for commercial development. We’ve seen far too many brick sidewalks and fancy planters sitting in front of still decaying properties to convince us that mere fancifying is of much use.
Forest Park is suggesting that its upcoming streetscaping on Roosevelt will be a continuation of the Oak Park/Berwyn/Cicero upgrades of several years ago along a shared border on the street. We’d note that the Berwyn side of Roosevelt is starting to thrive owing to the TIF it established and the shrewd investments it made in specific businesses such as Culvers and the Wire music venue. Meanwhile the TIF-less Oak Park side of Roosevelt looks marginally better with its benches and lights. Step back from the curb and Oak Park still sports a riot of blighted and obsolete buildings that streetscape cannot hide.
This is a prime moment for Forest Park. The economy, the TIF, streetscaping combined can begin the remaking of Roosevelt Road.
A partnership grows
For the past 18 months, The Review has informally shared editorial content with the Village Free Press, a news blog out of Maywood run by Michael Romain. The sharing arrangement has benefitted both of our efforts to cover Proviso Township.
Now we’re happy to report that Michael Romain has joined our editorial staff where he will edit the Austin Weekly News and cover education in Oak Park. Hardworking fellow that he is, The Village Free Press will continue as an independent entity and continue sharing Proviso Township coverage with the Review.