Music booking agent Donnie Biggins got nothing but support from residents, business owners and commissioners Tuesday as the village council unanimously approved his application to open Robert’s Westside music venue at the northeast corner of Madison and Circle.
Biggins is planning to open Robert’s Westside music performance venue inside a leased space that’s facing the intersection, a space last occupied by the Tap Room bar. He had vowed to the council that it would have sound-dampening panels behind the stage, the windows will always stay closed during performances and all performances will end before the village-mandated 11 p.m. cutoff date. While the application said Robert’s Westside would open this November, Biggins has declined to confirm this was still the case.
Under the zoning changes approved earlier this year, any performance venues that aren’t theaters and want to open at the Madison Street corridor must clear the Planning & Zoning Commission before getting approved by the village council. While there were some concerns at the September planning and zoning meeting about the impact on noise and traffic, the emails and public comments during the Oct. 10 village council meeting were appeared to support the venture. Several corridor business owners said that they would welcome the crowds and they trust that Biggins and his staff will be able to manage the crowds and take care of other issues.
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.
While it was open, Tap Room attracted complaints about late night noise and rowdy behavior – leading the village to pull its liquor license last summer. Kevin Harnett, owner of the Zimmerman-Harnett funeral home next door, was among those who testified that Tap Room customers urinated, threw up and smoked in front of his building. In an email to the village, he wrote that he spoke to Biggins, and, based on their conversation, he supported the application.
“Our discussions touched on past issues and how we could improve the quality-of-life concerns for Madison St. [sic] businesses, as well as residents, while remaining true to his own vision for the venue,” Harnett wrote. “I’m confidently hopeful for the success of his business, and more importantly, a positive step forward for our vibrant town.”
The village also got supportive emails from Jim Jodoin, owner of the Jimmy’s Place restaurant, Art Sundry, who owns several Madison Street buildings and operates Café DeLuca. and Katherine Valleau, the co-owner of Exit Strategy.
Joseph Sullivan, owner of Duffy’s Tavern, offered his support in person, saying that a music venue would bring in large crowds and plenty of revenue for the village.
“We believe this to be a good use of this space and an important cultural asset to Forest Park,” he said.
Steven Backman said he lived near the intersection for nearly 38 years, and while he understood the concerns about parking, he trusted that Biggins could handle it.
“I know the Biggins family all my life, literally, and I believe that Donnie Biggins, he’s going to give more than due diligence and take a sensible approach on handling the parking,” he said. “I’m confident, I’m hoping, I wish him the best of luck.”
When the planning and zoning 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. During the Tuesday meeting, Commissioner Jessica Voogd said she wanted to make sure those conditions are followed up.
Forest Park Public Health & Safety Director Steve Glinke said that “according to the petitioner, it’s going to be very rare when they have a tour bus,” Biggins and the village are working with the owners of nearby private lots to allow for storage if the need does arise. As for the rideshare spot, the village is looking at putting a rideshare-only sign at the street parking spot east of the alley that separates the funeral home and its parking lot. As Glinke noted, that spot already has a yellow line painted on the edge of the sidewalk.
Commissioner Ryan Nero, who lives at the nearby block on Circle Avenue, joined his colleagues in supporting the project. “I can tell you that my neighbors, that live on 400 block of Circle are very much in support, as well as myself and my wife,” he said.