Good for the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and for village government to move quickly on a deserving proposal to study the creation of a Special Service Area (SSA) on Madison Street to raise funds for events and marketing on the village’s main commercial strip. 

The Forest Park Village Council set a plan in motion on Monday night to discuss funding a feasibility study requested by the chamber for an SSA. Effectively, an SSA is a distinct property-taxing district where property owners within a defined district pay an added tax that goes into a pool used for specified purposes over the term of the SSA. In the chamber’s proposal, money raised would be used exclusively to create events, to market the street, and potentially, to fund some sort of physical markers at gateways to Forest Park on Madison. 

There was a moment 20 years back where a combination of direct village funding and dynamic fundraising among a strong merchant group paid for effective marketing of Forest Park’s downtown as the ultimate “urban/suburban” destination for shopping and dining. It worked and the buzz about Forest Park grew across the metropolitan area to the benefit of both merchants and the wider community.

Creating an SSA, assuming the feasibility study is favorable, ultimately comes down to direct votes of the property owners along the street. Those owners will need to be convinced that shelling out added property tax dollars will build the value of their buildings, allowing them to attract better tenants at higher rent. That’s a one-on-one sales job the chamber and its Economic Development Committee will need to take on once the initial study is complete.

We’re supportive of the concept which would give a resource-short chamber a guaranteed cash flow over an extended number of years to build the Forest Park Madison Street brand.

Data-based decisions

A lot of noise can be generated on social media, in election campaigns, on a newspaper’s editorial page. It can have value, but it can also be just noise without a whisker of data to back it up.

Now two locals with professional careers in data science want to use available data to sort out complex Forest Park issues and then propose solutions for elected leaders to consider. Steve Rummel and Matt Sweeney have created OpenFP, a citizen-driven, data-oriented group meeting monthly, actively surveying residents for ideas on projects to tackle, committed to being non-partisan and pledging to share their data and recommended solutions openly with elected officials.

Matt Sweeney we don’t know as well, though his background in urban planning at the University of Illinois is impressive. Steve Rummel we met during his narrowly unsuccessful bid for a seat on the District 91 school board this spring. We liked his approach then and we are wildly enthused about seeing a defeated candidate stay actively, positively involved. If OpenFP turns out well, Rummel may have found an even more productive use of his energy and expertise than being a school board member.

This article has been updated to reflect that the village council will discuss funding a feasibility study for an SSA.