Forest Park residents will have the opportunity to share their opinions regarding the proposed Cultural Park on village-owned property near the Altenheim Retirement Home at Madison and Van Buren streets during four outreach events this summer.

Mayor Anthony Calderone announced at the village council meeting on May 14 that Mike Mencarini of the National Park Service is moving forward with the second phase of his outreach effort after completing the first phase, which was meeting with stakeholder groups in the village.

The Park Service in October awarded the village a technical assistance grant from the agency’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) branch to help officials create the proposed park for year-round use. The RTCA grant is not a monetary grant. Instead, the park service is providing technical assistance during the federal fiscal year to village officials as they move forward. The federal fiscal year began in October and will end in September.

Mencarini said the first phase, which concluded in April, involved meetings with “approximately 13 community groups or local government offices” to discuss the proposal and ask if they had any initial feedback related to the opportunities available at the site or any concerns they might have. 

He said the next phase would consist of four community outreach events that will be open to the public, two each at the Forest Park Public Library and the Park District of Forest Park. The events at the library would be held on weekday evenings and those at the park district would be weekend daytime events. Mencarini said he is working with officials from the library and the park district regarding scheduling but is hoping to hold events two weeks apart, alternating between sites. Outreach events would start in June and conclude in August.

“During these events I plan to have a table with several maps and photos of the current site as well as two posters,” Mencarini explained. “One poster will list common park/recreation amenities where people can indicate if they favor that amenity being incorporated into the proposal or not and the other poster people can write down comments they have for opportunities/concerns related to the proposal.”

He said previously that his focus would be on the outdoor recreation and park/green space opportunities that are associated with the cultural park proposal, noting that proposals discussed previously have included a music venue.

Calderone said village officials would publicize dates of the events as they are scheduled.

Mencarini said his goal is to present an overview of the outreach and community feedback in September, which is the end of the park service’s fiscal year.

The village purchased the property for $3.6 million in 2001, averting a sale to a private developer whose plans were to build townhomes. The property consists of 11 acres north and south of Altenheim and includes a chapel and other outbuildings, all of which are empty. At one point the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park targeted the site for a new facility but negotiations fell through. Fenwick Hugh School in Oak Park also inquired about purchasing the property for a football field and other athletic fields.

Forest Park resident Ralph DiFebo has spearheaded the effort to create a cultural park on the site, making presentations to groups around the village in 2015 and 2016, concluding with a presentation to the village council in August 2016. In December 2016, the village council created an ad hoc committee that presented a formal proposal in September 2017.