“What you need is a champion on the board.”

That’s what Ed Buck of North Riverside said to Ralph Di Febo at the end of his presentation regarding what he believes is the best use for village-owned property near Altenheim Retirement Home. The evening meeting on July 14 was the first of three town hall-style get-togethers in Forest Park that Di Febo has planned this month to discuss his idea for the land and how it could be paid for. The second took place on Monday at Brown Cow. The last is tonight, July 20, at Amy’s Winehouse, 7235 Roosevelt Road.

Di Febo and his supporters believe the 8-acre site should be utilized for green space and the best way to do that is to turn the land into a “Cultural Park” with an outdoor concert band shell. He said providing outdoor concerts would act as one of the primary revenue generators to pay for the work needed to develop the land and amenities.

During the meeting he laid out his ideas, including the next step in how the project could be paid for. Finding a corporation or corporations to make a major donation and putting their name on the band shell would be ideal, but grants and/or the village issuing a bond were two other avenues mentioned. Di Febo estimates it would cost between $1.3 million and $15 million to build Cultural Park.

During the meeting they various scenarios were presented on how much money could be raised through ticket sales, concessions, merchandising, and parking, which would go to the bottom line, but Di Febo added that this venue could bring more revenue-generating traffic to businesses in the area as well.

After three years of hard work on Di Febo’s part to promote the idea, one major obstacle remains: board approval.

He said he just wants to present the idea, which can be viewed online, to members of the village council to get their thoughts.

“We haven’t pressed it because this is a concept,” he said. “We need the village to step up and say, ‘This is something we would be interested in.'”

After hearing all the work Di Febo has done and that no one has stepped up from the village board to actually hear his idea, Buck made his point about Di Febo needing a champion on the board. Although he lives in North Riverside, he spends a lot of time in Forest Park and believes an outdoor concert venue is a great idea.

“I think the village leadership needs to endorse the efforts of its people,” Buck said. “He put a lot of work into this.”

Uli Leib, 57, has lived in the village eight years and believes it’s a feasible project that can be accomplished.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” she said. “What I really like is that they put the numbers to it, and the numbers seem very realistic.”

Gary Frantzen, a financial analyst who helped put together several financial scenarios that might pay for the project said it could generate millions each summer.

“It’s a terrific idea and one that would be good for the village,” he said. 

But the land is zoned residential and to change the zoning would need village board approval. Members of the group in attendance expressed rumors that the village would rather stick with the zoning in terms of developing the land.

“I’m not in the circle that knows,” Di Febo said to the group.

He said one village board member liked the idea “off the record” but he hasn’t been invited to explain his plan to the village board.

“It hasn’t gone past that and this is something we need,” he said. “We need their assistance. We need to hear back from the village.”

Susan Cross, who has lived in the village for 13 years and was at the meeting, believes members of the village board need to be contacted by residents to get the ball rolling.

“If you’ve got people living in the community who are doing this hear them out,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they put their stamp of approval on it, but hear them out.”

Di Febo plans to have his next two town hall meetings at 7 p.m. July 18 at Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, 7347 Madison St and at 7 p.m. July 20 at Amy’s Winehouse, 7235 W. Roosevelt Road.

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