Music booking agent Donnie Biggins’s application to open a music venue in the former Forest Park Tap Room space was give the ok by the village’s planning and zoning board – even as several residents of nearby condos and homes expressed concerns about traffic and noise from the late-night crowds. 

The proposal still needs the village’s final approval.

Biggins is planning to open Robert’s Westside music performance venue inside a leased space at the corner of Madison Street and Circle Avenue. He plans to lease the space, with a contingency that he receives a conditional use permit and a liquor license. Opening is scheduled for November, according to his application.

The space’s last tenant, the Forest Park Tap Room bar, which the village shut down last summer, cast a long shadow over Monday’s planning and zoning commission meeting. Several residents living nearby recalled loud late-night crowds disrupting their sleep, and said that they weren’t interested in the repeat. While the commission recommended approval, it attached conditions, including requiring that Biggins set up a dedicated parking area for tour buses and other touring vehicles away from the building, create a dedicated spot for rideshare pick-ups and drop-offs, and keeping the windows closed while music is playing.

Under the current zoning code, any entertainment venue that’s not a theater that wishes to open in the Madison Street corridor must get a conditional use permit. The commission’s decision is a recommendation – it would be up to the village council to decide whether to concur with it. 

Biggins has a long track record as a booking agent, working with Fitzgerald’s nightclub in Berwyn and, more recently, Forest Park’s Exit Strategy bar. Until recently, he operated the Golden Dagger music venue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, but he told the zoning commission that he recently sold it to focus on the Forest Park venue. The name is a nod to Biggins’ father and Healy’s Westside – the bar that was operated by building owner and former village commissioner Mark Hosty before Tap Room.

During Monday’s meeting, Biggins emphasized that he had experience with managing crowds and said that none of the events he booked in the city or the suburbs caused any significant issues.

“I advocate for venue safety, and I have always been vocal in my management style to provide a safe space not only for my patrons, but my performing artists as well,” he said.

Donnie Biggins speaks at the Sept. 18 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting | Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Biggins said that the stage will be set up near the east wall, and sound-tampering panels will be added. Forest Park health and safety direction Steve Glinke told the commission that the fire code effectively caps capacity at 250 people. Biggins said that customers would use the Circle Avenue entrance during major events, and the Madison Street entrance during smaller events, emphasizing that customers would only be able to enter through one of them at a time. Customers who wish to smoke would be directed away from Madsion Street – something that was an issue with Tap Room customers.

In response to questions about needing to soundproof the windows, Biggins said that he has already been testing the sound levels, and he was satisfied that the windows would block most of the noise. 

He said that he plans to schedule the events so that performances would end well before the village-mandated 11 p.m. cutoff date. Rushing customers out the door, Biggins said, creates problems, and he wanted to create a more gradual off-ramp. According to the application, Robert’s Westside would be closed on Mondays. It will be open from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to midnight on Sundays.

Biggins said that the bouncers will be checking IDs and whether patrons were coming in inebriated. He said that customers would need to use the Dice ticketing platform, which would recommend the local public transit options and nearby village-operated parking spaces. Pace bus route 318 stops directly in front of the building.

Zoning commissioner Paul Price asked about where tour buses and other vehicles would park, noting the already limited parking and the complicated Circle/Madison intersection. Biggins said that “it would obviously not be on Circle Avenue” and that he was planning to work with “a neighboring business or a church” to use their parking lots.

Price also raised concerns about traffic issues by customers taking rideshares to performances. Biggins said that he would work with the village to set up a dedicated pick-up/drop-off point. 

Village commissioners Maria Maxham, Ryan Nero and Jessica Voogd attended the meeting, but they didn’t make any comments. They told the Review that they were only there to observe.

Forest Park Arts Alliance board member Bridget Lane said the village doesn’t have many event spaces to begin with, and a performance venue would be a boon for its burgeoning art scene. 

“There really a demand in this market for this kind of space,” she said, adding that the arts alliance plans to work with Biggins to see if they could use the space. 

Some members of the public who commented indicated that they were leery. John Cabral said he lives on Warren Street, about a block north of the building, He said that while he supports the idea for Robert’s Westside, after his experiences with the Tap Room, he doesn’t want a music venue at that particular spot.

“[My family and I] had experiences, and it’s scary, because people are going to park upon our little street, it’s natural,” Cabral said. “And, at around 2 o’clock, people are going to be coming back to their cars, and we’ll be sleeping, and we’ll be woken up. So that part is worrisome.”

Peg Callahan, who said she lives “a block and a half” from the building, agreed that she liked what she heard, but remained concerned about parking.

“Help him, if it does get approved, help him figure out the noise thing and the parking and the congestion, which is already a nightmare,” she said.

Raquel Antillera, who lives in a mixed-use building directly across the street, said that after the Tap Room experience, neither she nor her neighbors want anything that could result in rowdy crowds. 

“It was the drunk people getting out and the noise is literally 10 feet away from us, they’re leaving, they had a few drinks, and I get it, but it’s so disrespectful for people who live there, and that is our home,” she said.