The push for a Cultural Park on land near Altenheim Retirement Home is still alive with an upcoming “town hall” meeting planned by supporters to build momentum to make the park a reality.
Spearheading the event are village residents Chris Harris, former Forest Park village commissioner and mayoral candidate, along with Ralph Di Febo, who has put his Urban Studies degree to use in designing the proposed project. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m., July 14, at Chalk, 7414 Madison St., and is one of three to take place this month.
Di Febo’s vision for the land would be primarily green space but with a twist to help pay for it. Raising funds for the project will be the main focus of the meeting. Having a music venue on the property is one of the ways Di Febo believes revenue could be raised to support the development.
He believes a band shell-type structure on the site could be a revenue generator to not only help pay for the project but attract more revenue to the village.
“It would create an economic engine for the town, by exposing our businesses to the people who come to the venue,” he said. “It would create all sorts of exposure for our businesses.”
Along with an outdoor music venue, Di Febo and his wife, Andrea, envision walking paths on the 8-acre site, along with sculptures and a sledding hill and an area for ice skating during the winter.
Di Febo has been working to make this vision a reality for three-and-a-half years after the village put out a call to the community to get their opinions on what should be done with the land. The majority of residents at that time wanted the land to be used as greenspace.
Prior to the upcoming forums Di Febo has been trying to build support for the project, conducting similar informational meetings about his vision for the land back in March, and he also created a blog and Facebook page prior to that.
Ultimately, Di Febo would like to submit his proposal to the village board, but he hasn’t been invited to do so yet, so he continues to try to create community support for it. He has received a lot of help from Harris to promote the forums.
When asked if Harris — who was a village commissioner from 2011 to 2015 and ran for mayor against incumbent Mayor Anthony Calderone last year and lost — could have been the reason he hasn’t received an invitation from the village board, Andrea Di Febo, who has been working with her husband on the plan, said she didn’t think so.
“We don’t want to be negative,” she said. “We are trying to respectfully explain our idea.”
Harris said he supports Di Febo’s plan because he’s worked hard to come up with something that would be beneficial to the village.
“Nothing [else] has been discussed about that property, and we have a resident who has taken the initiative to come up with something,” he said.
He admits he doesn’t like seeing the land go undeveloped for so long and doesn’t know why the village board, especially the mayor, hasn’t taken action.
“My frustrations with the mayor are not exclusive,” he said. “There are others who are frustrated with the mayor.”
He believes whatever is going to be placed on the land should be something residents can use.
The Di Febos remain positive that, with enough community support, they will get the opportunity to share their vision for the land with the village board.
“Having the village [board] discuss it publicly, I think, is a great idea and others in the village think it’s a great idea,” Andrea Di Febo said. “We really want it to come from [the village board], that ‘this is part of our thinking and we want to hear you out.'”
Ralph Di Febo said the work he and his wife have put into promoting their plan for the use of the land is a result of their love for the village, nothing else.
“I like Forest Park,” he said. “I want Forest Park to be better. I want it to be stronger and that’s the only reason I’m doing this.”
The other two forums are scheduled for 7 p.m., July 18 at Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, 7347 Madison St., and 7 p.m., July 20, at Amy’s Winehouse 7235 W. Roosevelt Road.