“A huge advantage” is how Bridget Lane, a consultant for Building Districts Inc., characterized Forest Park’s concentration of independent businesses. “It’s a great community. … I was really impressed with the business owners,” Lane added

Her remarks came during her economic development report to the Forest Park Village Council during the March 23 meeting. The presentation was the final component of the $15,300 agreement between BDI and the village of Forest Park aimed at improving business districts throughout the village. As reported last month in the Review, the collaboration between BDI and the village included business workshops, surveys, and an evaluation of the current business climate. 

During the presentation, Lane analyzed the strategic market position of Forest Park and highlighted the community’s favorable concentration of young millennials, its many “maker businesses,” and its historical domination of signature holiday festivities like St. Patrick’s Day. 

Lane explained that the report was developed through collaboration with the village’s Economic Development Committee and proposed targeted “short-term development efforts” specifically aimed at widening the brand recognition of Madison Street beyond Forest Park. After progress on that goal is realized, the next step is to leverage Madison’s image to help in the development of other business corridors in Forest Park, including Roosevelt Road, according to Lane. 

The report identifies organization, programming and funding as three areas for improvement. Efforts to ameliorate these three areas include: 

formalizing the working relationship between village government and private businesses

enhancing fundraising and 

utilizing open spaces, like parking lots, to host more community events. 

Lane fielded questions and comments from several council members. Commissioner Rory Hoskins highlighted the Living Word Christian Center, a non-denominational church located along Roosevelt Road, stating, “I think that’s another institution we should market as potentially a destination and as a way to grow along Roosevelt Road and in town generally.” 

Commissioner Tom Mannix questioned Lane about the number of survey responses, to which Lane replied, “We’ve had less than a hundred and I am really surprised. … I got 2,000 responses in Andersonville [a Northside neighborhood of Chicago] with the same request.” The survey was designed to accumulate demographic information about patrons of Forest Park businesses. 

Hoping to acquire more respondents, Lane referred to Living Word Christian Center and stated, “I should contact them and see if they can get their members to fill it out,” then added, “It’s just asking the businesses, every time you contact your customers to send out this link and ask them to take this quick survey.”

Mannix referred to the emphasis on holiday events and pop-up shops in Lane’s presentation as “very interesting.” He believes prioritizing popular events, like Halloween, could help create jobs, increase foot traffic for local businesses and strengthen consumer awareness of Forest Park. 

Pointing to the success of one annual Chamber of Commerce event, the Casket Race, he remarked, “It was a unique idea. … It is a draw. Elmhurst doesn’t have it. Wicker Park doesn’t have it. No one else in the Chicagoland area has it. That’s going to be a destination for us to help turn October into a great month for businesses.” 

In the coming weeks, BDI’s relationship with the village will conclude. However, Mayor Anthony Calderone, referring to Forest Park’s continued efforts to improve the business climate, remarked, “This is just the beginning.”