Bridget Lane, of Business Districts Inc. of Evanston, in her latest update to the village council, mentioned the possibility of applying to put Forest Park’s main street on the National Register of Historic Places.

The village’s economic development consultant, told village officials at the Jan. 23 village council meeting that the beginning of a new year is a “great opportunity” to coordinate resources.

To that end, she said she met earlier this month with the Amilcar Perez from the Forest Park Public Library and Lori Kokenes from the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce.

“We worked on a whole program to coordinate all year and to really help small businesses here be more effective in Forest Park,” she said. “We also want to help any resident living here who has had a dream of starting a business learn more about how you can do that and resources available.”

Among those resources are monthly programs offered by the library that are geared specifically to operators of existing small businesses and those hoping to open their own small business.

The January program, held last week, featured an attorney speaking on legal aspects of small business challenges. Next month’s program, which will be held on Thursday, Feb. 16, will address starting a limited liability company, which is a hybrid legal structure that provides the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a partnership.

In addition to encouraging attendance at the library programs, Lane cited the databases that are available through the library at no charge to businesses and residents.

Noting that Forest Park “is a fabulous place for small businesses,” she said helping “grow our own” is one of her goals for 2017.

“It’s really important that we create jobs in town and entrepreneurship and elevate the regional reputation of Forest Park,” Lane said. “We’re going to really work this year on the opportunity to help existing Forest Park businesses and any residents or others interested in starting a business get off the ground with a lot of resources and support.

Lane also said she wants to leverage Forest Park’s “key assets,” Madison Street, Roosevelt Road and Harlem Avenue, in 2017.

“We’ve been working on it and will continue to work on it.”

On Madison, in addition to supporting brokers and connecting potential tenants, she said Forest Park needs to leverage the business district’s positive image and increase the number of daytime customers, noting there aren’t as many people on the street during the day as at night.

Lane also said village officials are examining the potential of applying for the National Register of Historic Places. Although that process is still in the early stages, she noted the program offers federal income tax advantages and indicated it would be a way to help property owners make improvements.

The planned Roosevelt streetscaping project will make business opportunities there more attractive, said Lane, who plans to create a property marketing sheet for prospective new businesses. She also said the village needs to continue supporting the Forest Park Plaza on Roosevelt and said negotiations are continuing with prospective tenants for the former K-Mart property and out lots on the south side of Roosevelt on either side of the entrance.

Her presentation included a map that showed 4.2 million residents are within a 30-minute drive from the Forest Park Plaza, as well as 2.7 million jobs and $34.9 billion in retail spending. Lane said that positions Roosevelt well for a growing trend in retail — buy online and pick it up in the store. More online shoppers are picking up the purchases rather than having them delivered to their homes and risking the packages sitting on the porch for an extended period, making them a likely target for thieves.

On Harlem, Lane said two opportunities will present themselves in 2017, both of which involve coordinating with the village of Oak Park. Rush Oak Park Hospital has announced plans to build a $30 million emergency department building on its campus north of its main building at the corner of Madison Street and Maple Avenue, which is one block east of Harlem. In addition, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority have announced plans to study Harlem from North Avenue to Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

She said she hopes this could improve the Madison gateway and support the auto-oriented businesses on Harlem. 

Lane’s presentation was the third to the village council since the Forest Park resident’s firm was hired in May.

Although village officials also considered creating an economic development director position, the village council instead approved the contract with Business Districts Inc. for a base rate of $3,000 per month for six months.

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