In a report on downtown development she co-authored in 2014, Bridget Lane, Forest Park’s once and future economic development guru, wrote, “If you do not actively manage your image, the marketplace will position you.”
That’s for sure.
Well, after a heady run a decade ago when Forest Park merchants and the Main Street Development Association made the village a genuine destination with its aspirational “Urban Suburban” marketing campaign, Forest Park has largely ridden out the Great Recession on its limited laurels.
Last week, the village council took some action to try to rekindle that positive era. It voted to hike its annual support for the Chamber of Commerce to a still pip-squeakian $25,000, agreed to a one-time $20,000 marketing boost to follow the current Madison Street update and turned once more to Ms. Lane for a short-term dose of development planning and recruitment.
(Bridget Lane and her Business Districts Inc. has been on and off the village’s consultant payroll since the 1990s.)
In previous go-rounds, Lane has emphasized the strength that Forest Park’s Madison Street offers with its core of locally-owned entrepreneurial businesses. Nurturing those businesses is critical. And, she has said, building camaraderie between business and the government is critical.
But before the nurturing can begin, the tension level over the open-ended dispute about video gaming needs to be resolved. Lane writes that “Communities can’t be all things to all people (but they need to be something to somebody).” That suggests making courageous, confident choices, something the council has failed at so far on gaming.
But whatever choice it makes there, Forest Park is going to need the energy of its merchants and restaurateurs to drive a resurgence, to talk up the street to any potential entrepreneurs Lane brings to Forest Park to kick the tires. It was that astounding, almost overwhelming drive by merchants which fueled that era. We know it is a tough energy to bottle.
The funding for the Chamber is deserved but more of an investment and a more strategic partnership with village hall is needed. On a smaller scale, Forest Park must certainly look at the model at work in neighboring Berwyn where its development corporation fulfills functions of both a chamber and a development authority.
Is Forest Park ready to think that big? Are its officials willing to step back from the spotlight and hire true leaders.
In a previous incarnation, Bridget Lane offered up a number of reports and recommendations to Forest Park. One that made sense to us from a straight-up marketing standpoint was that the Chamber needed to “own” holidays such as St. Pat’s and Halloween. Progress has continued there.
But she also offered bolder land-use concepts, including a rethinking of the area surrounding the Blue Line terminus that might incorporate office construction. Now that the CTA and IDOT are planning the total rebuilding of the Ike, those are the sort of ideas that ought to be aired. What about the future use of the Altenheim? Certainly fits in this discussion.
So congratulations on small steps by village hall and its economic commission. We’ll watch for results.