So here’s what we know about the now-kaput proposal to put a Starbucks on the corner of Madison and Harlem: Speculation by the real estate broker — who worked the deal between a private developer and Forest Park’s village hall for two fruitless years — that ultimately the village wanted more density on that prime corner.
That the speculation comes from David King, the well-connected commercial real estate broker and for years the political intimate of Forest Park’s mayor and administrator, would suggest he is not blowing smoke.
However, this is more than the public knows since neither Mayor Anthony Calderone nor Village Administrator Tim Gillian returned calls from the Review’s reporter. It is more than the public knows because the multiple permutations of this development plan for a Starbucks (with drive-thru) and an urgent care center have never been publicly discussed. The matter was never sent to the zoning board for consideration, never sent to the plan commission, never put on the agenda for the village council to chew over.
So far as we know, neither Calderone nor Gillian have ever presented a public vision for this gateway corner that made the case for a mixed-use, mid-rise with condos and retail. Maybe that is a great idea. If it is, proclaim it.
Otherwise, explain why, through obstinate hoop-jumping, the village government has just run off both Starbucks and a highly respected commercial developer in Midwest Property Group?
Like many towns, Forest Park got all goose-bumpy a decade ago when it earned its first and only Starbucks in a storefront on Madison. A bit of a cliché, but being blessed with a Starbucks was seen as a sign that an urban neighborhood or urban suburb had created enough commercial energy to support an overpriced burnt-coffee emporium.
That Starbucks was eager to invest in an upgrade in Forest Park with a new building and a drive-thru should have been reassuring to Forest Park leaders. We’ll see which way the goose bumps fly if and when Starbucks decides it is uninterested in remaining here because it cannot do business the way it and its modern customers prefer.
In our view, this is only the latest example of Forest Park allowing its two leaders (and best pals) to govern in secret and by fiat. Why does the zoning board exist if not to hear serious proposals such as this? Did members of the village council debate the pros and cons of this proposal improperly in executive session or were they, too, left in the dark? We’d like to know. And so would the public.
Strong economies during which things get built are precious and not to be wasted. A decade back Forest Park had visions of a grand mixed-use project at Madison and Desplaines, the site of a shuttered gas station. The village lacked the mojo to make that happen, the economy cratered, and we now have a super-sized McDonald’s.
Perhaps we are dull and pragmatic, but we’d rather have the handsome, humming Starbucks as the gateway than a vacant lot and an unarticulated dream.