The good news is that somehow, slowly and without much leadership, a consensus has taken hold in Forest Park about the future of the village-owned Altenheim property.
Both residents and officials have unofficially concluded this 8-acre jewel of open space off Madison Street must remain green and open to public use. The village, under the bold leadership of Mayor Tony Calderone, bought this large parcel many years ago expressly to prevent its development as townhomes or some other unambitious purpose. Since then, there have been long and short dalliances with the West Cook YMCA about building a new facility there and with Fenwick about plopping in a football stadium.
As those plans went poof, the prevailing view became that the single largest available open space in town must remain open. But open is not the same as purposeless. And over the years, except for an annual handful of very nice village-sponsored community events — Groovin’ in the Grove, RibFest — the green space has remained only well mowed and the holdover buildings from its decades as part of the Altenheim German Old Peoples Home have just continued to crumble. The possibility of preserving the historic chapel on the property has faded as the strange indifference to actually making a plan for the property has become the de facto policy of Calderone and the village.
Sure, there have been occasional sparks and smoke signals that some sort of public commission would be appointed to study options for use and financing of some sort of project.
But just this week, the Review reports on a fascinating concept that has been percolating quietly for a year or more, nurtured by a few quiet activists — Forest Park, by the way, needs more boisterous activists. The concept is to remake the open space as a “Mini-Ravinia,” with an open-air music pavilion and perhaps eight annual high-profile concerts. A playground, walking path, sculpture garden, picnic areas would also be carved out of the property which would be open mainly for quieter recreational uses.
Is this the plan? We don’t know, though we were swept away by the video this small group, led by Ralph and Andrea Di Febo, have produced. (Find the link at ForestParkReview.com) Using a drone to capture lovely aerial photography of the site, they make the case for this ambitious but understated concept. One of the insights offered here is the potential of adding an additional primary entry at the southeast corner, which is nearly adjacent to the CTA station and the Ike.
We do believe this proposal, now supported by Forest Park Kiwanis, should be the start of a broader, more outcome-focused and much more fun discussion of the possibilities here.
Time for the mayor and the village council to either join in or to step aside and see what this organic idea might grow into.