Video gaming clearly is the main topic in town. The lawn signs. The letters to the editor. The online comments. And, on Monday night, the packed house at a village council meeting where the topic was not even on the agenda.
Through an extended public comment, though, proponents and opponents had the chance to make their arguments in what was surely a preview of the continuing debate and the, once again, promised public forum still to be scheduled by the village government.
We get the arguments on both sides. We’ve made the arguments in opposition. We understand the concerns of a cash-strapped village government that sees foregone revenue. So at some point, and only Mayor Anthony Calderone knows when, the village council will need to make a choice.
Except for potentially finding a way to ban the pathetic little gaming parlors that go by names like Dotty’s and Vinny’s, which litter strip mall storefronts in neighboring towns like Berwyn, the choice of elected officials will be pretty much up or down. As in gaming itself, there will be a winner and a loser.
We’d suggest a step back though. The sad fact is that Forest Park is going to make this important choice — though not as life changing as some opponents believe — from a position of weakness. Never good.
The bar and restaurant owners, at least those speaking publicly, are all eyeballing Brookfield and Berwyn with their video slots as some sort of bar-owning utopia. Surely not the case. None are making comparisons with Oak Park where suddenly the bar and restaurant scene is brimming with new businesses and full houses of the non-gambling variety. And no one in Oak Park has ever even considered video gaming as a way to improve the business climate.
Retail owners are suffering the lingering impact of the recession, the thinning of their ranks, the ever more obvious empty storefronts and the humbling effects of the Internet on shopping.
Village officials see looming pension obligations, expensive and ignored infrastructure, and a ready source of some cash, short-term though it is likely to be.
So who is looking at the big picture? Where is the economic and marketing plan for Forest Park? Not a plan put together by a well-meaning committee of locals but a plan with expertise, energy and dollars behind it.
Let’s contrast the potential revenue of video gaming with the impact of putting a car dealership back at Roosevelt and Desplaines, with filling the long-empty Kmart store, with a renewed branding campaign for Madison Street. Of course these are hard things. We get that. But can Forest Park no longer do hard things?
Where’s the leadership? The energy? The ideas?
Yes, video gaming has to be dealt with. But so do the wider issues.