Forest Park village commissioners touted the future BABS Comedy Club as just one of the many signs of the village’s growing arts scene.
During its meeting Tuesday, the Forest Park Village Council approved two ordinances that permit the comedy club to open at 7316 Madison St.
One is a change in the zoning code that will permit performance venues at the Madison Street corridor. The second approves the club’s application to be the first such venue. Under that ordinance, performance venues will be allowed as a “conditional use,” or something that the village reviews on a case-by-case basis. The commissioners said that this will give the village oversight while allowing Forest Park art scene to continue to grow.
While the zoning code previously allowed theaters, including movie theaters, to operate in Forest Park commercial areas, it didn’t explicitly permit other performance venues, such as comedy clubs, anywhere in the village. The newly amended zoning code defines a performance venue as “any establishment that, as a primary use, offers live entertainment to the public” and gives “plays, dance performance, concerts, comedy, or musical drama.” as examples. While the code is framed to allow some flexibility, one thing it explicitly doesn’t allow under the definition of “performance venue” is any venues where performances regularly feature “nudity or semi-nudity,” The Forest Park Code of Ordinances defines “semi-nudity” as “the appearance of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola at its highest point.
Commissioner Ryan Nero said that he supported the change because it “just speaks to the evolution of Madison Street and Forest Park.”
“We’re always looking at the way to improve the menu of services in town, especially with entertainment, and this agenda item is one of the great ways to do that,” he said.
Commissioner Maria Maxham said that making performance venues conditional use was the right approach, because it “allows the village to still have control.” And she didn’t shy away from the fact that, as a Forest Park Arts Alliance board member, she was “a little bit biased” in favor of anything that can grow the village’s art scene.
“Nobody can just come in and say — we’re going to have some kind of performance venue,” Maxham said. “It has to go through [Planning and Zoning Commission] and I agree with Commissioner Nero, that Forest Park is kind of on an arts roll, we have a lot of cool things going on, and I’d like that for Madison Street.”
As previously reported by the Review, BABS (a reference to a Saturday Night Live sketch) comedy club will offer comedy classes, host comedy shows and provide a space for comedy writers to hone their skills. Maxham said she was pleased that owner Emily Ramirez was buying the building where the club would be located, which shows her commitment to Forest Park.
“I think this is fantastic. I think it will draw residents and visitors from out of town and would be something for our village to take pride in,” she said.
Commissioner Jessica Voogd said that she was impressed with Ramirez’s business plan, while Nero said that having a comedy club was a good fit for the corridor.
“We can all use a little laughter in our lives,” he said.