The ad hoc committee tasked with exploring options for revamping the vacant Altenheim property, near Madison and Van Buren streets, updated Forest Park village commissioners on its efforts and asked for help submitting a grant application during the village council’s June 12 meeting.
The push to create a “Cultural Park” on the 11-acre lot, which includes several vacant buildings, is still in its early stages, with a final plan and total cost still to be determined. The village bought the property for $3.6 million in 2001, and over the years several ideas for development, including from Fenwick High School and the West Cook YMCA, were eventually scrapped. The village council created the ad hoc committee in January. Since then the committee has met roughly a half-dozen times, talking with experts and conducting at least one survey, in a renewed effort to develop the site.
“I would like to create a space that all Forest Parkers would be proud of,” Ralph DiFebo, the committee’s chair, wrote in a June 16 email to the Review. “The park would give us green space and a cultural attraction. It would also give people from the surrounding communities another good reason to come to Forest Park and experience for themselves what a wonderful place this is.”
DiFebo explained to the council that his committee has identified several possible issues to work through, including sound, security and financing and is continuing to consult with outside experts, such as sound engineers and stage designers, to help work through those potential problems.
“We’re really concerned about all those things,” DiFebo said in a June 14 phone call. “They’re all very, very important.”
The committee has three working concepts, he said, with varying levels of features. The most inclusive plan, for instance, includes the largest concert venue. In the other scenarios, the venue is scaled back, with fewer seats.
Ideas for the lot include an outdoor concert space, concession area, walking paths, a farmers market, sculpture garden and a skating rink. Redeveloping the vacant property could generate new revenue for the village and draw visitors from across the Chicago area to the park for events and programming. The Blue Line CTA train station is located nearby.
The grant application is for funds from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), in partnership with the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). CMAP issued a call for proposals at the beginning of May. Applications must be submitted by June 29. DiFebo said CMAP prefers to have proposals come from village governments, which is why they submitted the partial application to the council.
“We should be able to meet the timeline,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said June 12. “I feel confident.”
In a June 15 phone call, Village Administrator Tim Gillian confirmed the village plans on submitting the application on time.
“We have submitted them in the past. We do know a little bit about it,” Gillian said. “But quite honestly, it’s a fairly simple process.”
CMAP’s Local Technical Assistance program, first started in 2010, helps communities plan projects, like a comprehensive plan, a neighborhood analysis or a bike path study. There are dozens of projects underway across Cook County.
The idea, DiFebo said, is to “fine tune the concept” with funds from CMAP.
“To get money to build, you really need to have a plan,” DiFebo said. “To get a plan, you need study money.”
If CMAP does not select the village’s grant application, Gillian said Forest Park will look for other grant opportunities.
DiFebo added his committee is also working with the National Park Service, seeking assistance as well.
“They don’t give money so much. They help you organize,” DiFebo said. “They provide logistical support. They can also help guide you toward other sources of funding.”
DiFebo said he hopes to have a concept for the property to the village council to assess by the end of July.