Park District of Oak Park Executive Director Jackie Iovinelli addresses the Altenheim Committee, Jan. 9. | Igor Studenkov/Staff

In a reverse of a long-stated position, the Park District of Forest Park Monday told the Altenheim Advisory Committee that it may have an interest in improving and/or operating a portion of the village-owned site. However, Jackie Iovinelli, the park’s executive director, told the committee the park district must complete work on improving the pocket parks it now operates for the village before it could consider an Altenheim role. The district is also working on planning and funding for a new indoor facility on property it purchased last year on Harrison Street.

The Altenheim Advisory Committee, the village-created group charged with creating a development plan for the property, invited Iovinelli to speak during its Jan. 9 meeting. The committee reached out to the park district in early December, and the Park District Board of Commissioners discussed the matter in closed session during a Dec. 15 meeting.

Iovinelli said the park district is simply too busy with improving the pocket parks it leases from the village, as well as developing a new indoor facility at 7400-7412 Harrison St. But the park district would be interested in revisiting the matter down the line, when it has less on its plate. Iovinelli said having more green space would benefit the village, and her organization is always looking for more opportunities to better serve Forest Park.

If the park district does follow through, Iovinelli said it would want to lease the land, the way it currently leases four pocket parks from the village. And she cautioned that the park district would need to add employees and buy new maintenance equipment to undertake a role at the Altenheim.

Over the years, many residents advocated using at least a portion of the Altenheim site as a public space. The Altenheim Committee hasn’t entirely ruled it out. But the proposals led to questions of who would manage it. Public Health & Safety Director Steve Glinke, who is one of the committee’s non-voting members, previously indicated that Forest Park wasn’t interested in managing parks after leasing out most of its pocket parks, and that the park district wasn’t interested in that, either.

During the Dec. 5, 2022, meeting, committee chair Marty Tellalian suggested that it made sense to reach out to the park district directly to discuss the issue, arguing that it made no sense not to try to involve them in some way.

“We have a park district, I feel like everybody feels like a portion [of the site] is going to end up a park, and I think our park distinct, we need to identify what they’re willing to do,” he said.

Iovinelli said that leasing the pocket parks increased the amount of open space it manages by 25%, but its workforce and funding remained the same.

Under terms of the long-term lease, the park district is responsible for managing and improving the pocket parks. Iovinelli said the district would want the same arrangement with the Altenheim land. She said one taxing body already spent taxpayer funds to acquire the land, and spending taxpayer money on the property “a second time” made no sense to them.

As it stands, she said, the park district isn’t ready to take the Altenheim property.

“We have a lot on our plate,” Iovinelli said. “We would like to be invited to the table, but, right now, we want to finish what we started.  We’d love to come back to the table once we get what we started done. To take on that piece of property right now, that would take a bit of planning on our part.”

Tellalian wondered whether the park district was pivoting toward indoor space, or perhaps being steered in that direction by grant requirements. Iovinelli responded that it wasn’t the case, pointing to their work with the pocket parks.

Committee member Geoff Smith asked if there was state and private funding the park district would be able to use to improve the Altenheim property. Iovinelli responded that it would be “an absolutely great location” for the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) state grant, where park districts and municipalities can get up to $600,000 to cover half of the costs of open space and park improvements.