Forest Park is enthusiastically welcoming a live music venue to Madison Street. Robert’s Westside will open soon at Madison and Circle under the ownership of a veteran booking agent and music hall operator.

Forest Park’s village council gave Donnie Biggins its unanimous approval on Oct. 10 at a meeting filled with strong support from neighbors and neighboring businesses. They expressed support for Biggins’ plans to control noise and crowds, abide by village rules on closing times and parking, and, especially from Madison Street business owners, support for bringing large crowds of happy customers to the street.

This is a happy pivot from the intense upset both neighbors and local businesses expressed toward the Forest Park Tap Room, previous occupants of the old Healy’s Westside. That was an unmitigated disaster, with raucous (often overserved) customers exiting the space late at night, waking neighbors and trashing the immediate neighborhood. Its owners ignored the COVID regs then in place, served alcohol past closing times, and disrespected police efforts to preserve the peace.

For his part Biggins has said soundproofing will be added to the interior, windows will remain closed during performances, and music will end by 11 p.m. All good. All reasonable. All respectful of operating a music hall in a largely residential neighborhood.

Biggins has strong local ties going back to growing up in Oak Park, working for years booking acts at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn and more recently at Exit Strategy in Forest Park. (Some of the benefit performances previously held at the soon-to-shutter Exit Strategy will reportedly shift to the new venue.) Biggins knows the business and is ready to make a large bet on Forest Park.

That’s all good.

State of finances

We’re back in a warranted debate about Forest Park’s level of commitment to investing in green infrastructure. The village government has just applied for $1.03 million in state funds which, if granted, would allow the parking lot at Constitution Court to be remade with permeable paving bricks.

The environmental benefits are genuine and intensely practical. As rainstorms intensify season by season, finding ways to keep that water from cascading straight into an inadequate sewer system is a direct investment in preserving the basements of local home and business owners. The permeable pavers would instead allow some 97% of rainwater to be absorbed into the ground, bypassing the sewers.

A state grant would pay for 75% of the $1.57 million project. That’s generous and welcome. But the remaining 25% still amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars. At its Oct. 10 meeting, Commissioner Maria Maxham supported the application but again cautioned that the village’s capacity to fund the balance on grants was limited. This is now multiple times that Maxham has publicly discussed the limits of the village’s financial capacity. 

As Commissioner of Accounts and Finance, we look forward to Maxham speaking more directly to Forest Park’s current finances.