Clearly it is a blow to Forest Park that, barring a Christmas retail miracle, the newly opened HOBO home improvement store will soon go dark. The small chain has declared bankruptcy, begun liquidation, informed its employees they’ll soon be out of work, and may or may not make it through the holidays.
The immediate toll, as Village Administrator Tim Gillian notes, is a direct loss of sales tax revenue to the village at a time when there is already a notable deficit. Mid-term, though, the departure of HOBO, at best a mid-market retailer, raises questions about the viability of the entire Forest Park Plaza. The former Kmart had sat vacant since Dec. 2014. At the other end of the mall, Living Fresh Market, another small family-owned retailer, took the space left when Ultra Foods abruptly closed its stores. Time will tell how viable the new food store will be in what is a highly competitive and increasingly disrupted food marketplace.
The Forest Park Plaza is a combination retail mall and the home base for the highly diversified Living Word Christian Church. The mega-church owns the mall and the two entities are closely interwoven.
Here are two challenges: Retail can hardly be more challenged than it is today in the age of Amazon. There will be less bricks-and-mortar year by year. And this mall, opened with great fanfare nearly 40 years ago, is actually a recycled torpedo factory. With its immense concrete walls this is a not a building easily repurposed.
Village government, with ambition and optimism, has restructured and expanded Tax Increment Finance districts along Roosevelt Road. It has invested, through the TIF, in a notable streetscape upgrade in the past two years. There remain other gaps on this critical tax-producing street. The old Jerry Gleason Chevy is one. The U.S. military-owned reserve station is another huge parcel along with the mail sorting facility. The future of those two giant parcels has to be uncertain.
Big worry but massive opportunity for Forest Park. What comes next won’t come easy or by accident.
We are now under a week away from some sort of final resolution of the video gaming debate that has splintered and consumed our village for far too long. The voters will vote and whether the choice is to ban video gaming or allow it to continue, we fully expect all parties will abide by the outcome.
That’s why you have to sort of laugh — or keel over — at the Review story this week that a gas station on Randolph has recently installed what is called a “sweepstakes machine.” This is basically video gaming without any of the benefits that proponents might attribute to those government-regulated, tax-generating, video gaming machines we are all so focused on.
The Illinois Gaming Board believes sweepstakes machines are illegal. But so far they are losing that argument with the General Assembly. While purportedly free to play, the sole machine we’ve heard of in town has a hand-written sign that says players must spend at least $5 to redeem any winnings.
What a goofy world.