The years-long process to redevelop the vacant property at Harrison Street and Circle Avenue cleared another hurdle Feb. 6 as the Forest Park Plan Commission unanimously gave its approval to the Park District of Forest Park to continue with its plan for the site.  

The commission, which oversees all public improvements for the village, endorsed the proposal, which incorporates mixed-use space, including a playground, a soccer field, picnic areas, amphitheater seating and walking paths, along with a building on the southwest corner of the property containing a gymnasium, fitness center, and classroom space. The proposal now heads to the Forest Park Village Council for final approval. 

“This has been going on for a long time. It sits there as an eyesore,” Plan Commission Chair Paul Barbahen said, referring to the vacant property at 7239 Harrison St. “It’s time to move on.”

The village council could vote as soon as April 2017, according to Steve Glinke, Forest Park’s director of health and safety. Glinke has been the liaison between the village’s planning team and the park district throughout the process.

The entire project will cost an estimated $5 million, with about $2.9 million in state grants and the rest paid for using funds from the 2010 property tax referendum. 

Forest Park residents, park district officials, village administrators and outside representatives, including architects and lawyers, were in attendance at the Feb. 6 meeting. One resident asked about public bathroom access at the planned building and was told they would be available during park district hours to accommodate park patrons. 

Jerry Lordan, president of the Forest Park Historical Society, also thanked park officials for their efforts to use parts of the old Roos building, including bricks and columns, in the redevelopment plans as a memorial of the space’s history. 

“We are very excited to take the next step toward finishing this project,” Park board President Matt Walsh said. “We look forward to taking this to the village council and getting shovels in the ground.”

Walsh said final plans for the Roos materials are not set, but they will be used.

As reported by the Review, construction could start as soon as April and be finished in 12-14 months, assuming there are no holdups in the approval process, according to Larry Piekarz, the park district’s executive director.

The development process also involves an intergovernmental agreement between village government and the park district. A stretch of Hannah Avenue, which is just west of the property and dead-ends at the I-290 expressway, will be updated and provide overnight permit and off-street parking as part of the project. Those changes will help meet the usage demand of the park district’s designs, Glinke said.

The park district also owns land to the west of the Hannah Avenue right-of-way. Glinke said the village will retain ownership of the road and provide upkeep, such as snowplowing.

The 2.5-acre site is the former home to the Roos furniture company factory. The park district acquired the property in May 2013 for $499,000.

Original plans for the site included a bigger building, but that plan was scaled back to fit the project’s current budget. As reported by the Review, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources approved grants for the park district in late summer 2016.

Repairs to the old factory building were initially considered, but a 2013 storm forced the village to demolish the long-vacant structure. 

“I see it every day, twice a day,” Barbahen said, mentioning he lives nearby and sees the now-vacant property on his commute. “I can hardly wait to see the green space and the building.”