Tom Mannix

At the last Forest Park Village Council meeting in August, Mr. Ralph DiFebo presented a concept for the Altenheim property that was well thought out, well documented, yet a few steps away from becoming something often talked about — a legitimate plan for development of the Altenheim property.

As Mr. DiFebo and his team were presenting their plan, I was thinking one thing: This concept is great, but how do we pay for it? Before we dive into how we will pay for it, I wanted to share some thoughts about the concept he presented.

My son is 17 months old, and this winter I intend to take him sledding, but unless we travel to Oak Park, there really is nowhere to go sledding in town, but you know what? Mr. DiFebo’s concept has a sledding hill.

As my little guy gets older, I want to take him fishing and ice skating and unless we go to Riverside to fish the Des Plaines River, or go to an ice skating rink, there is no place in Forest Park, but you know what? Mr. DiFebo’s concept has a pond for fishing and ice skating.

When my son is in junior high, I want to be able to take him and his friends to a family-friendly outdoor space to enjoy live music, but as we all know, that is nowhere to be found in our community, but you know what? Mr. DiFebo’s concept has a 7,210-seat outdoor amphitheater.

It is apparent that much time, money and energy have been put into this concept — something for which Mr. DiFebo, his wife and numerous community members should be applauded. That being said, we all need to understand that with all early stage concepts, there are numerous details to work out and hurdles to overcome. With the right team, however, I am confident a comprehensive plan can be put in place.

Now the big ugly 800-pound gorilla … how do we pay for this, or any other concept for that matter?

Hence, I am making but a modest proposal.

In 1997 the Illinois General Assembly enacted a short piece of legislation: The Forest Park Civic Center Law. This law allows the mayor of Forest Park to appoint, with the advice and consent of the council, five Forest Park residents to serve on the Civic Center board. 

This board would be able to take Mr. DiFebo’s concept and make it a plan, then make it a reality.

This board can borrow money and, if the residents of Forest Park approve it via referendum, levy property taxes to pay for the cost of the bonds. The estimated cost of the build-out is several millions of dollars — a lot of money certainly, but with the power of this board, the cost to each property owner in Forest Park would be around $125 per year. A modest sum.

If the Altenheim property hits the revenue figures that were outlined in the presentation, the Civic Center board can do what we, as a village council do, abate back the property taxes that were levied for the bonds. We do this with sales tax dollars every year. This board can do the same.

The village could maintain control of the underlying property and lease the property to the Civic Center board — ensuring the village will maintain ownership of this asset for decades to come.

The village can begin appointing members to this Civic Center Authority at our next meeting. I would urge two individuals to step forward immediately to begin moving this concept to reality — obviously Mr. Ralph DiFebo should be the first person appointed. The second person needs to be someone who lives at the Altenheim, someone who sees where Mr. DiFebo’s concept has potentially detrimental impacts on the residents at Altenheim, I can think of no better person to serve this important role than Ms. Amber Laderia.

While we will need three more residents to fill out this board, I believe that many will step forward.

If we focus on putting the wheels in motion by utilizing this existing board structure, I am confident that, come May of 2019, we will be cutting a ribbon at the Forest Park Cultural Park and Amphitheater. 

Let’s go get it done.

Tom Mannix is a Forest Park village commissioner.