Although a discussion of video gaming was not on the agenda at Monday night’s Forest Park Village Council meeting, residents and business owners in Forest Park filled the council chamber to share their thoughts.
The crowd occupied every seat, pooled in the doorway and lined the walls of the room.
The evening’s first speaker was Ken Donarski, vice president and general manager for Burke Beverage Inc., a local distributer of beer, wine and spirits. Donarski told the council that he was there to provide information. He said sales were up in communities where video gaming was allowed but down in Forest Park. Though he initially had doubts about video gaming, Donarski said he believed the rollout was smooth and it was operating well in communities that allowed it.
Dennis Miller, owner of FatDuck Tavern and Grill, also spoke at the meeting and said he was there representing other liquor license-holding establishments in Forest Park.
“If you drive down the street late in the evening, you can tell it’s just not happening,” Miller said of the bar traffic in Forest Park.
The liquor license establishments in the village are big supporters of community programs and events, Miller noted, and the owners of those establishments need the revenue and customers that video gaming would bring in to continue to be able to support the community and invest in their businesses.
Ted Hosty, owner of Old School Tavern, said he supported video gaming in Forest Park, but ultimately a village forum would be the most important thing the village could do to combat the “fear” he said residents were feeling over the issue, which he believed could be quelled with more information.
Opponents of video gaming also took to the podium to denounce video gaming as a poor political and economic choice for the village. Kate Nolan, a 15-year resident of Forest Park, said the absence of video gaming in Forest Park is what would continue to make the community unique and attractive compared with other nearby towns that allow it.
Connie Brown, owner of Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, spoke to those in Forest Park whose minds are not yet made up one way or the other on the issue.
Brown described being a longtime resident and a longtime business owner in Forest Park. The passion of those vocal on the issue had left her feeling pulled in both directions, she said.
“It’s been a very difficult topic,” she said. “I’ve had some very passionate discussions with people in this room.”
Brown said she has seen a slowdown in business across Forest Park, not just for the bar and restaurant owners, which she felt was due to the area continuing to bounce back from a long national recession. She hoped the issue wouldn’t become divisive.
Brown wants to see all the businesses in Forest Park thrive — especially owners like Mark Hosty, whose daughter she employees at her own business. But, she said, the village would do better to work on an economic plan that would benefit all the businesses, not just those who hold a liquor license and stand to reap the rewards of video gaming.
She worried about the long-term impact of gaming on Forest Park, especially as the area becomes saturated by the video gaming business. She acknowledged the village’s significant pension obligations but said it felt short-sighted to look to video gaming as a solution to the village’s budget concerns.
At the close of the meeting — although most supporters and opponents to video gaming had already left — Mayor Anthony Calderone addressed the issue, though he repeatedly pointed out it wasn’t on the agenda.
“We positively, absolutely are going to have at least one public forum,” Calderone said.
But he said he did not know when that would be or when the council would address the issue in depth.
“Nobody sitting up here can tell you if a vote is going to come up in a month, two months or three months,” Calderone said. “It’s a process.”
Calderone riffed at length on the topic before returning to the council’s business and said, in his gut, he was unsure if there was even data available to determine if video gaming has any impact on crime in communities where it is allowed, which opponents have said they are concerned about.
However, he said the questions commissioners asked staff to do research on regarding video gaming could be ready for the council by the next meeting in April, or perhaps in May. He reminded the council that there was no deadline set for when staff should have their research completed.
Village swears in police, fire personnel
Also at the meeting, Mayor Calderone swore in several longtime Forest Park police officers, recently promoted as they stood with family.
Kenneth Gross, a 16-year veteran of the department, and Steven Zanoni, who has spent 22 years with the Forest Park Police Department, were each administered the oath of office to the rank of lieutenant.
Tom Hall, with 21 years in Forest Park, took the oath of office for the rank of sergeant.
Two new additions to the village’s emergency staff were also sworn in for the first time. Police Officer Nicholas Christopher, who began attending Cook County’s police academy that morning according to Police Chief Tom Aftanas, took the oath of office. Firefighter William Toth, who has been working with the village for a year, was also sworn in.
Aftanas said that after Christopher has completed his time at the police academy, he will shadow an officer in the department for several months, likely starting patrol on his own in October.
Madison Street work to begin in next week or two
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said he expects streetscape work to begin on Madison Street between Harlem and Desplaines avenues in the next week or two.
Work to Madison’s streetscape will begin with the replacement of sidewalks. Gillian said the village worked closely with the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce to minimize any disruption the work will cause to the business community.
Gillian is waiting on more information as to which side of the street the work would begin on.
Overall, he said no major delays were expected and that traffic flow will be minimally impacted during construction.