Forest Park needs to establish an identity among national real estate brokers if the village wants to attract national retailers, a new economic development consultant told the village council at Monday’s meeting.

In her first monthly report since being hired in May, Bridget Lane of Business Districts Inc. of Evanston said national retailers with whom she has spoken do not understand where Forest Park is, making it difficult for agents to fill vacancies in the village.

“Everybody knows Oak Park but nobody knows Forest Park,” she said. 

To help create that image, Lane said she plans to create a one-page marketing sheet that focuses on Madison Street. She already has identified businesses to tell their individual stories in the sheet, including Starship, Scratch Kitchen, Yearbook and ICOMM.

“The idea being they all tell stories about why this location is superior to others,” Lane said, terming their stories as “fabulous.”  

“To maximize the impact of precious resources, short-term economic development efforts should include expanded marketing initiatives that raise awareness of the Madison Street ‘brand’ and that promote the street’s image as an ideal location for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Lane said in her presentation. “Once Madison Street acquires national brand equity, the goodwill associated with that equity can be leveraged in expanded marketing efforts to promote Roosevelt Road as another highly desirable investment opportunity for the community.”

Lane explained that Madison Street is filled with “independent entrepreneurial” retailers and the area does not have spaces that will accommodate national retailers. 

Comparing Madison Street to areas in Chicago, Lane said Forest Park is more like Andersonville than Wicker Park/Bucktown, which she said has been “taken over by the nationals.”

After the meeting, Mayor Anthony Calderone explained that Roosevelt Road is the target for national retailers.

“We’re focusing on Madison Street at the moment,” he said, but noted the village established two tax increment financing districts along Roosevelt Road in 2015 and the area will undergo a complete makeover in 2017. 

“We want to get the national retailers familiar with Forest Park and why they should consider locating here,” Calderone said. “We also want to create an awareness with the national retailers that there’s more to Forest Park than Madison Street.”

In additional to a lack of image among national retailers, Lane said brokers told her vacancies are impacted by the village’s use restrictions, especially those on personal grooming.

Commissioner Joseph Byrnes said he thinks the village is “starting out in the right direction” on economic development, while Commissioner Rachell Entler expressed concerns about keeping the “small-town charm” on Madison Street. 

In response to Commissioner Dan Novak’s question about why Forest Park is a second choice, Lane said the main reason she was told “is nobody understands” Forest Park.

“An agent has to work hard to sell vacancies here,” she added, citing the fact that national hair salons have “never heard of” Forest Park.

Novak also noted other benefits of Forest Park, such as the schools and the diversity of the residents, which could be included in marketing material.

Lane agreed that there’s a “bigger story” but stressed this particular marketing sheet is a “teaser” for real estate agents seeking tenants.

“Bridget brings to the table the ability to look at us from the outside,” Calderone said after the meeting. “She has helped open our eyes to some uses, especially on Madison Street. She has been a blessing.”