The well-known phrase “A rising tide lifts all boats” is a slogan borrowed from the regional Chamber of Commerce, the New England Council. Forest Park would be wise to adopt the same ideology.
As a retail small business owner on Madison Street, I’m deeply concerned that video gambling (VG) would be damaging to the image of Forest Park and detrimental to our business. We opened Yearbook 4½ years ago and chose to locate here because we loved the unique combination of shops, boutiques, service providers, restaurants, and (yes) bars that make up the distinctive landscape of our “Main Street.” Allowing VG would drastically alter that landscape and detract from the charm and character that took years to build. Many other small business owners are equally alarmed.
In 2015, Mayor Anthony Calderone formed an Economic Development Committee (EDC), comprising Forest Park Chamber of Commerce (FPCC) members, business leaders and other community advisors. At our last meeting, it was determined that a more formal Economic Development “Commission” (name still TBD) will be established and a full-time staff member will be employed to take the helm. The charge will be to recruit new businesses, strengthen the current business base and promote FP as a destination location with a vibrant downtown.
We also discussed other beautification and branding efforts that could be implemented in conjunction with the upcoming resurfacing of Madison from Desplaines to Harlem. New planters for the streetscape, branded banners for the light posts, gateway signage and a comprehensive marketing plan were on the list. I left the meeting feeling incredibly uplifted — until now.
Hearing comments recently like “video gambling is coming to Forest Park” and “it’s pretty much a done deal” has totally knocked the wind out of my sails. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I reached out to Mayor Calderone personally out of concern with some questions via email. His responses included that it’s “most likely within the next 60 days” that the Village Council could be voting on VG.
I believe without a doubt that bringing gambling to FP would not only counteract any beautification or economic development efforts, it would initiate a downward spiral.
The residents of FP delivered a strong, unequivocal message in opposition to VG with a vote of 68% to 32% on a non-binding referendum on April 9, 2013.
Prior to the last election, all the commissioner candidates were in agreement down the line that public input would be necessary and solicited before they could make any decision about VG. The video recording with their complete responses can be found on YouTube.
When and how is the council planning to gather input from FP residents and business owners? I’m imploring the mayor and four commissioners not to entertain an ordinance on VG without first gathering community input.
The main (and seemingly only) argument in favor VG is the “revenue.” Bear in mind that the “revenue” consists of the money lost by those feeding money into the gambling machines. It’s not new “revenue.” The state of Illinois receives 25%, the local municipality only gets 5% and the remaining 70% is split evenly between the terminal operator and the local establishment. That’s literally millions of dollars drained from our local economy that won’t be spent on products and services offered in the village. (VG revenue reports for all municipalities and licensed establishments are on the Illinois Gaming Board’s website www.igb.illinois.gov).
And don’t think it’s just small businesses that would suffer. Forest Park residents would take the fall as well. The potential for declining property values and other socioeconomic factors should be of concern to all FP citizens.
We’re all in the same boat and need to do what’s best to benefit all businesses. We need to work in harmony to elevate the image of FP, not lower our standards in the name of fair competition. We want people to visit Forest Park because they’re looking for unique, locally-owned shops and boutiques, high-quality service providers, restaurants with great food, bars with exceptional service and inviting atmospheres, and an overall welcoming and family-friendly environment.
It really comes down to what we want the image of Forest Park to be. As small business owners, we’re betting on economic development and not VG for a vibrant future!
If you’re in agreement, reach out to the mayor and the commissioners via phone and email (www.forestpark.net). If you would like a “No Video Gambling” yard sign, send a message to noVGinFP@gmail.com.
Noel Eberline is a partner at Yearbook Studios, a Madison Street retail shop and design studio.