A vote is coming and it is coming soon on legalizing video gambling in Forest Park. Thirty days. Sixty days. It is heading to the village council agenda somewhere in that brief time frame. Not that the mayor of Forest Park has been that publicly direct. Heck, just three weeks ago he told the Review’s reporter there were no immediate plans for a vote; there wasn’t “an active conversation going, and it’s not on any agenda yet.”
Define immediate. Define active conversation.
It was just 2013 when Forest Park voters crushed the notion of video gaming in an advisory referendum. Residents don’t want it. The bars do want it. The recently-elected commissioners seem to want it, though no one is broadcasting it. Mayor Anthony Calderone? He used to oppose it. Now, it seems, not so much.
There is an active group of citizens who know a vote is imminent and have launched strong opposition. Hence the letters to the editor and the proliferation of lawn signs. Now, in a fascinating twist, a new base of strong opposition has surfaced among a group of independent retailers along Madison Street.
Noel Eberline, a partner at Yearbook, has a One View this week which describes his strong opposition to the cheapening impact video gambling would bring to a street where retailers have staked their livelihoods on projecting a positive and upscale image for the village. He is not alone in his opposition among retailers.
Eberline also makes plain his disappointment with village government, which is simultaneously suggesting an investment in economic development while being less than candid about the gambling vote.
We are befuddled by this situation. Calderone and Tim Gillian, the village administrator, used to cheer the transition of Madison Street from a drinking destination with a few medical offices and ratty antique shops, into a vibrant locale with some fine restaurants, one-of-a-kind retailers and a gradually shrinking bar scene. They used to celebrate every liquor license they could retire as they remade Forest Park’s reputation.
The local bar owner consortium has clearly brought great influence to this discussion. That’s OK. They are entitled to make their case. But so are residents and retailers entitled to be heard. So, village hall, tell us the date of the vote. Tell us the schedule of public discussions explicitly on this topic. Tell us the plan to keep out the Dotty’s mini-casino franchises. Tell us the legitimate financial bounty to be reaped by the village government in this decision.
And finally, for a village council elected on a promise of transparency and listening to the residents, this performance doesn’t speak well.