Ten years ago Forest Park began to think about the inevitable day when the U.S. military would give up its lonely and vastly underutilized Armed Forces Reserve Center on Roosevelt Road.

Credit Mayor Anthony Calderone for seeing the possibility and the necessity of Forest Park controlling, or, at least heavily influencing, the development of this 6.5 acres fronting Roosevelt Road. The village worked on a conceptual plan that called for village ownership with the intention of building out a range of property tax- and sales tax-producing income. Some of those ideas, like a car dealership and heavy retail, made more sense in 2012 than 2022. But the impulse was the right one.

However, at that point the military simply swapped the property among its branches and we fell into a decade’s limbo.

Suddenly, Monday, out of the blue, Forest Park’s village council was asked to leap into making a bid for the property. So many questions. And the final odd and awkward answer is that the council deadlocked 2-2 with one commissioner’s absence unexplained. The result? No bid. And, maybe, a closed opportunity in a military process that seems uniquely peculiar.

Under its Real Property Exchange program, the Pentagon offers local governments and private developers the opportunity to acquire no longer needed military property. But, if we grasp what was explained publicly Monday, Forest Park was not bidding to buy the Roosevelt Road property. Instead it was asked to propose how it might fund water drainage infrastructure at the Fort Sheridan facility in the north suburbs. Mayor Rory Hoskins would not share publicly what the ask was for that project.

While that all seemed murky, commissioners Byrnes and Maxham made reasonable arguments that Forest Park had no idea what it might be getting into if it was then gifted the Roosevelt site. With an out-of-left-field concept from Hoskins of reusing an existing building on the property as a new municipal government headquarters, the objecting commissioners raised valid concerns over environmental remediation costs for a village that typically operates on a thin financial edge.

Hoskins argued this was a unique opportunity and then listed a myriad of state and federal dollars the village could pursue to fund the work. A pretty skinny basis for a very major decision.

And just where was Commissioner Ryan Nero? Hoskins, who we would have thought had counted his votes, said he did not know the answer to that question.

The Pentagon has now made clear it wants out of Forest Park. With no immediate bid from the village and, Hoskins believes, no private bidder, this could become a more rational negotiation with time for planning and public input. Hoskins should consult with Cong. Danny Davis, his preferred candidate, on how to get the military to the table. While Forest Park’s municipal facilities are cramped and crummy, they can’t be the centerpiece of this critical development opportunity. This is a moment to actually discuss how to maximize Roosevelt Road’s potential as a business district, how to maximize revenue on a previously untaxed large parcel.

And this discussion has to actively engage with taxpayers — which is not Mayor Hoskins’ favorite strategy.

Not intended as a cheap shot but 20 years ago Forest Park jumped into the purchase of 11 acres adjacent to the Altenheim. Good decision. But two decades later there is still not a plan for the site. 

Putting the brakes on this leap before we look approach was the right outcome. Let’s regroup and make a better plan.