New businesses could be coming to Roosevelt Road, specifically to a vacant 98,000-square-foot site in Forest Park Plaza mall and to two nearby out lots.

Bridget Lane of Business Districts Inc. of Evanston, the village’s economic development consultant, told village officials at the Oct. 24 village council meeting that a lease is pending for the former Kmart property and there is significant interest in the out lots, which are on the south side of Roosevelt Road on either side of the entrance.

The presentation was the second to the village council by Lane, a Forest Park resident, since her firm was hired in May.

In response to a question from Commissioner Tom Mannix, Lane called the out lots a “great opportunity” and said she’s seeing “a lot of excitement” with potential tenants, mostly quick-service food companies hoping to duplicate the success of the Portillo’s at the nearby intersection of Roosevelt Road and Desplaines Avenue.

“Everybody knows about Portillo’s success,” she said, noting that details about potential lease agreements are not yet available. “We are trying to make sure we get the right tenants.”

Mannix confirmed the interest in the out lots, saying that he has spoken to several prospective tenants about the location. Although he also mentioned other available sites in Forest Park, the prospective tenants said they were most interested in the Roosevelt Road out lots. 

Including some inline space, Lane told village officials that the 106,000 square feet of available space could generate over $600,000 in revenue if fully leased, basing that projection of the estimated national average of $300 in sales per square foot. She suggested a goal of $425,000, which is two-thirds of the $636,000 in potential revenue and takes into consideration incentives the village might offer to prospective tenants.

Changes on Madison Street

The remainder of Lane’s report covered a report on potential change on Madison Street; growing new businesses; regional coordination; first quarter revenue; national trends on shopping center space; and taking advantage of traffic on Roosevelt Road and Harlem Avenue.

Potential changes on Madison include allowing tutorial centers; ground floor use by doctors and dentists; and co-working spaces.

Lane explained that co-working spaces are a growing concept and cited the Suite Spotte in La Grange and LexC in St. Charles, both in downtown areas. She said such locations allow entrepreneurs to work together to grow their individual businesses.

Mannix expressed support for the co-working spaces in Forest Park and suggested the village investigate a partnership with local school districts to use federal E-Rate funding to install fiber-optic wiring, which he said would help attract entrepreneurs.

To grow new businesses, Lane cited the success of a partnership in Mount Prospect among the chamber of commerce, village and public library there. The partnership has been in existence for several years and has already experienced success growing several Mount Prospect businesses.

Lane said she was “really excited” that the Forest Park Public Library has already taken on some business support services and called attention to a Nov. 17 workshop at St. Joseph Center in the Forest Park Village Center, 7600 W. Roosevelt Road. Saying she was grateful that the big crowd at the meeting was allowing her to better promote the event, she said the workshop will feature a panel discussion, featuring representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Law Project, SCORE Chicago, the Women’s Business Development Center and the Small Business Development Center. Additional information is available by contacting the library at 708-366-7171.

Lane said she is “trying to move beyond the neighborhood” by reaching out to economic development officials in other municipalities. She said she has met with her peers from La Grange and Western Springs in a regional effort to “grow the pie.” Rather than take businesses from each other, she said, she and the other economic development officials are hoping to identify businesses that are looking to open a second location in a nearby municipality. 

Although village officials had considered creating an economic development director position, the council approved the contract with Business Districts Inc. for a base rate of $3,000 per month for six months plus any additional expenses with separate approval by the village council.

Filling vacancies

Under the first phase of the new agreement, Business Districts Inc. will address development of vacant storefronts at Madison Commons on Madison Street between Elgin and Marengo avenues; the vacant car dealership at Roosevelt Road and Desplaines Avenue; and the Forest Park Plaza out lots and former Kmart on Roosevelt Road east of Desplaines. The firm will use its developer contacts and market knowledge to research specific tenants and development possibilities while involving the village council and the village’s Economic Development Committee, an ad-hoc group of village businessmen formed in April 2014 that meets monthly with Mayor Anthony Calderone to discuss enhancing the village’s economy through business development. Village council involvement will include a 30-minute presentation documenting each opportunity.

After incorporating comments from the Economic Development Committee and the village council, Business Districts Inc. will prepare an opportunity memo and implementation action plan for each initiative that will correct short-term problems and realize a long-term vision. In addition, the firm will create monthly work plans that combine the implementation action plan with the Business Economic Initiative completed last year. Those monthly plans will list outreach efforts to existing and potential businesses and promotion activities coordinated with the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce.  

Under the second phase, Business Districts Inc. will assist the village with press releases and a media kit that promotes economic development initiatives and with reviewing developer proposals. In addition, the firm will assist the village’s website coordinator and the chamber with creating a template for economic development updates and a business opportunities page targeting available properties. Printable promotional materials will also be created.

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