In a nutshell, here’s the conundrum: “To get the money to build, you really need to have a plan. To get a plan, you need the study money.”

That’s a quote from Ralph DiFebo, the inventor and champion of the grand concept of a “Culture Park” at the village-owned Altenheim property, and now, somewhat by default, its executive leader. 

DiFebo and his village government-appointed committee have reached a new point in their “if you build it” adventure. They are about to apply for a grant from Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). DiFebo updated the village council on the group’s progress at its June 12 meeting and asked for the village’s help in finalizing the grant application and actually forwarding it to CMAP under its auspices.

Mayor Anthony Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian offered assurances the village would help and that a June 29 deadline would be met. That’s good. Going forward, we see a need for village government to become a more active and determined partner in this ambitious plan.

As envisioned by DiFebo, the Culture Park would have several aspects. One is as a destination music venue. A mini-Ravinia is the shorthand reference. Also in the minds-eye of the committee is a sculpture park, skating rink and then common areas which could be used for a farmers market and other local uses.

To its great credit, a newly elected Mayor Calderone led the village’s bold plan to purchase these 11 acres of open space in 2001 for $3.6 million. It saved the space for future generations and spared us another gaggle of non-descript townhomes.

The challenge over the 16 years since has been to find the right use. Like many in town, DiFebo’s park has captured our imagination. It has a notable purpose as a destination aimed at drawing people to town from across the entire city. That would be good for Forest Park, its business community, and its sense of identity. But the mingling of quiet local uses would also be a fine addition for a town with little passive park space.

The road ahead is long and steep. All the players will need to pull hard in the same direction to make this real.

Juneteenth redux

Juneteenth. That’s something else we are fans of. Homegrown by its own champion, former village commissioner Rory Hoskins, Forest Park’s Juneteenth is a recognition and celebration of the anniversary of emancipation of black Americans from slavery.

This was intended as a retrospective thanking of the organizers, but due to rain last Saturday night, it is also an invitation to Forest Parkers to turn out this Thursday at the park’s aquatic center for the rain date. It’s a great time with free food, free pool admission and a heck of a batch of giveaways.

Juneteenth is also a worthy public celebration of Forest Park’s great diversity. 

Thanks to Rory, to his dedicated committee, to the generosity of the park district and to many local businesses, including this one, who support this effort. 

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