Known historically for its outstanding number of liquor licenses — at least, compared to neighboring villages — Forest Park lived up to its reputation for knowing how to party in 2018, ringing in an outstanding number of new and old accomplishments.
The Kiwanis Club of Forest Park celebrated 95 years this year, holding a spaghetti dinner to mark the occasion. Forest Park National Bank celebrated 75 years in business, rebranding and throwing the block party of the (near) century to celebrate. The No Gloves Nationals softball tournament celebrated its 50th year in existence, with the Tito’s 45s team taking the tourney’s top title for the second year in a row.
And after a series of setbacks — legal and otherwise — Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming celebrated one major win: the group got a binding referendum question related to video gambling on the November ballot. The vote was historic: Forest Park was the first village to get a vote on the practice after the machines had been installed, and a narrow majority of residents voted video gambling out of town.
It was the biggest story of 2018 and shock waves from the historic vote continue into the new year: Many residents said they felt inspired by the group’s work engaging the community—and the high voter turnout that ensued—and have thrown their name in the ring for the four commissioner seats, mayor’s post and three Forest Park District 91 and Proviso Township District 209 Board of Education spots that will open come election in April 2019.
Two challengers have emerged for the open mayor’s spot, 10 came forward for commissioners seats and one challenger, Chris Harris, has thrown his name in the ring for both spaces. He has until Jan. 24 to decide which position he wants to run for. D209 faces a competitive race between two political parties—including the homegrown Proviso Together group, whose three incumbents are seeking re-election—and one independent slate. D91 also faces its first contested election in recent memory, with seven challengers vying for the three open spots.
Mayor Anthony Calderone announced in early December that he will not seek a sixth term, writing on Facebook that “the challenges of zoning regulation in a mature village, unfunded mandates and limited finances will continue to be challenging” for Forest Park.
The village faces a more than $1 million projected deficit this year. In 2018, commissioners voted to increase the cost of business licenses, ambulance rides, water fees and more, all in an effort to narrow the budget hole, which many have said will continue only to grow due to increasing fees and unfunded state mandates. After 14 years, the Forest Park Post also bid farewell in 2018.
In addition to raising fees, commissioners approved several marquee developments this year, including a four-story mixed-use development for Madison Street that White Sox boss Jerry Reinsdorf proposed to the village council in April. The Forest Park Fire Department received a federal grant to purchase a new fire engine; the Forest Park Police Department celebrated the purchase of a new mobile stroke unit; the Forest Park Public Library unveiled plans for a $1 million renovation of its space; and the Howard Mohr Community Center also raised more than $20,000 to build a new kitchen.
It was indeed a banner year for many community institutions, particularly the Park District of Forest Park.
After nearly a year of construction, and several years spent raising the $6 million necessary to build the new center, the Roos Recreation Center opened in May. Park district officials secured about $4.1 million in state and federal grants to build the facility. After Roos opened, Larry Piekarz retired as director of the park district, after 29 years of service. He was succeeded by Jackie Iovinelli, the former superintendent of recreation at the Park District of Franklin Park.
Conversations centered on the creation of another park this year—a Cultural Park. Residents and a representative from the National Parks Service presented their final reports on possible uses for the village-owned property near the Altenheim Retirement Home this fall.
In September, the resident-led, ad hoc Cultural Park Committee recommended to village officials that they consider selling a portion on the north end of the property to a developer and use the proceeds to retire outstanding debt; pay to demolish crumbling structures on the south end, including the chapel; and fund a feasibility study.
The committee also suggested that village officials create a tax increment financing (TIF) district along Madison and Van Buren and use proceeds for sidewalks and street improvements. Calderone said the village will hold a public hearing in the new year to solicit public input on the idea.