While the focus of local business debate is the over/under on video gambling in Forest Park, it might also be a worthy moment to look at the growing number of commercial vacancies on the once-hot Madison Street corridor.

This month Oak Park celebrated the opening or planned opening of four restaurants just in the Hemingway District at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. Two of those businesses are ex-patriates from Forest Park. Novo is a direct descendent of House Red, a longtime Madison stop, and Saigon Pho, the family-owned Vietnamese spot, is a direct steal.

The loss of Saigon Pho is another blow to what we still call the Taxman development, the fairly new, mixed-use project built a decade back on a parcel the village assembled on Madison. With rumors that Starbucks will potentially leave that building in the coming months, there is a serious vacancy problem, one that is not unique with the high tax rates linked to new commercial construction. That Forest Park has also quietly nixed a Starbucks move to the vacant corner of Madison and Harlem remains curious.

Brian Boru, the Irish pub and eatery, meanwhile, open less than one year on the west end of Madison has also announced it will shut down this week. That is a major hole to fill. 

Reportedly the village’s fledgling economic development commission has nascent plans to reignite Forest Park’s Madison Street heat. We will understand that more fully when someone in village government decides to talk about those efforts.

Advice from a Proviso grad

This week we feature the happy story of Manuel Miravete, a once-upon-a-time Forest Park kid now making a notable success of himself working for Google in New York. It’s an American success story that we once, not long ago, would all have cheered. That some would now see threat and challenge in this story isn’t our problem. We’re still cheering.

Miravete arrived in America, in Forest Park, in 1986 from Mexico. He, and we presume, his mom and sister, overstayed their tourist visas. He enrolled at the middle school barely speaking English. A year later he was a fluent speaker. With his immigration status still uncertain and efforts toward citizenship underway, he was allowed to enroll at Proviso East.

His success there he ascribes to teachers willing to do more for a student who actively reached out for help. And that’s his age-old advice to today’s Proviso students: Bring energy and hard work and you will find success and support.

 Support for May grads

Working fast, the grassroots group of Forest Park and Proviso residents who elected a reform slate to the township high school board a year ago is aiming to raise a small chunk of change so it can award two scholarships to spring graduates.

The 209 Together group is working with the Forest Park Kiwanis Club to provide $1,000 each to two grads. One will reward a student who has posted consistently strong marks through high school. The other will honor a student who has overcome odds and finished strong at Proviso.

This is a small but notable effort and one we applaud.

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