Forest Park residents who want to share their opinions regarding a proposal to create a cultural park in the village should circle Saturday June 30 on their calendars, when Mike Mencarini of the National Park Service will hold the first of four community outreach events open to the public. 

The June 30 outreach session will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Park District of Forest Park, 7501 Harrison Street.

The park district also will be the location for a similar outreach session from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday August 4. Two other outreach sessions will be held at the Forest Park Public Library, 7555 Jackson Boulevard, from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday July 25 and from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday Aug. 8.

The public sessions are the second of two phases Mencarini is conducting to gauge support for a proposal to create a cultural park on village-owned property near the Altenheim Retirement Home at Madison and Van Buren streets. 

He said previously that he plans to have a table with several maps and photos of the current site as well as two posters at each outreach session. One poster will list common park/recreation amenities where people can indicate if they favor that amenity being incorporated into the proposal or not. On the other poster, people can write down comments they have for opportunities/concerns related to the proposal.

The first phase of the outreach involved 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 cultural 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 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.

Mayor Anthony Calderone said he is “excited and looking forward to learning what the community feedback is” regarding the public outreach sessions.

“Mike Mencarini has been a pleasure to work with in his professional and organized approach to gaining community input on a very important topic,” he added.

Mencarini reiterated that 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.