Ralph Di Febo continued to take his proposal for a “Cultural Park” to the people of Forest Park last week with a couple of local forums. On March 1, he held a town hall-style presentation at Exit Strategy, 7700 Madison St. The event was well-attended, with almost 50 people in the audience. Besides listening to his ideas, the attendees brought several cartons of groceries for the Forest Park Food Pantry. Although his plan remains a proposal, he’s supplying more details about his vision for the former Altenheim property.
Di Febo showed slides of the 8½ acre greenspace, with plans to create a picnic area, playground, and a sculpture park. The centerpiece of the property would be a band shell and great lawn for concerts. He said that the property could accommodate 7,200 concert-goers. (By contrast, Ravinia Park squeezes 12,000 onto 5½ acres). They could sit on terraced berms, which would serve as sound barriers.
Besides providing more space for listeners, Cultural Park would be infinitely easier for them to reach than Ravinia. It will only be a 100 yards from the Blue Line station and could be served by thousands of parking spaces in the village lot, the CTA lot and the Maybrook Courthouse lot. There are also remote parking venues in the village.
As for the sound system, instead of blasting the music from the stage, it would be piped out over the audience on speaker poles. This system is used in Chicago’s Millennium Park and would keep noise pollution from bothering neighbors. Di Febo only envisions about eight major concerts a year but said the revenue from concerts is needed to pay for the park.
Apart from concerts, he sees the park as providing more unstructured recreation as well for residents. It would be a place, where they could stroll a half-mile walking path, toss a Frisbee, and have a picnic on the great lawn. He sees the playground as serving the grandchildren of Altenheim residents, as well as young families. He would also like to see permanent structures for a Farmers Market and a concession stand.
The big question, of course, is how to pay for all this. Di Febo proposed starting a civic foundation to apply for grants, float bonds and attract private donations. He also sees corporate sponsors getting on board and paying for naming rights to the venue. A similar park was built in Arkansas, after selling the naming rights to Walmart.
“It would increase our green space, bring art and culture to the community and make Forest Park a destination,” Di Febo declared, with his usual enthusiasm. “I’m using these town halls to build public support, before we can present the plan to the village council. I also want to involve other communities because this will benefit them.”
After the presentation, he opened the floor to questions. He was ably assisted in this by his wife, Andrea, who acted as a human amplifier to make sure everyone could hear. The first questions were about the viability of the existing buildings on the property. Di Febo indicated they were asbestos-filled and in poor structural shape. He didn’t think they were useable and would eventually be torn down.
Someone surprised him with a question about having a maintenance facility to store equipment for the park. Di Febo thought they could locate it behind the stage. There were also concerns about the park adding to Forest Park’s flooding problem. Di Febo said they would use water-permeable pavers on the paths. They would also build a water retention pond that could double as an ice-rink in the winter.
Di Febo also doesn’t want traffic from the park to negatively impact the village. He proposed restricting vehicular traffic to Desplaines and First avenues and not allowing cars to enter off Madison Street. Seeing how the park is in proximity to the bike trail and public transportation, it would not be necessary for many concert-goers to drive.
He sees the park as being a boon to local businesses, with patrons visiting Madison Street before and after events. He also sees the need for a quality concert venue in the western suburbs and has had informal talks with members of the Symphony of Oak Park-River Forest and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and they reportedly expressed a desire for a suitable outdoor venue in this region.
As the meeting came to a close, Di Febo passed around survey sheets and sign-up sheets. “We would really like to see more names on our list of supporters,” Di Febo said, “We want to get more community members on board and get your activist juices flowing.”
Two nights later, Di Febo repeated his presentation in a tent at McGaffer’s, 7737 Roosevelt Road. It was toasty inside and packed with a crowd of about 35. They appeared to be a different demographic than the crowd at Exit Strategy. Di Febo began with the fact that the village had asked for public input about the best use for Altenheim and he was simply answering the call. The village has owned the property since 2001 but has never developed it.
He hopes a committee will be formed to study the feasibility of his Cultural Park proposal. Di Febo firmly believes, “If we build it, they will come. It will make Forest Park a come-to place.” He also emphasized that the park could be built in stages, to keep costs manageable. He pointed out that Downers Grove built a band shell for $1.3 million. Aurora built a similar park for $14 million and the aforementioned Arkansas park cost $12 million, all private money.
Di Febo admitted he is not an engineer or architect but has a degree in urban planning. He’s put in three years of his own time, while architect Brian Peterson also donated his time. When Di Febo wrapped up his presentation, Village Commissioner Rachell Entler was on hand to ask some questions about water retention.
At the end, Di Febo admitted, “Maybe I’m crazy and this won’t work out.” Someone shouted back, “You are crazy and it will work.”
The next stop on Di Febo’s speaking tour will be at 7 p.m., Thursday night, March 10, at the Buzz Café, 905 Lombard in Oak Park. For those who can’t make it to his presentations, they can check out the proposal at here, or on Facebook.