Want the constant from our series of interviews with, and questionnaires from, the candidates for mayor and the village council?
They all love the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, want to give it more marketing money, give it to them every year even when money is tight, and they really support the chamber's new Economic Development Committee.
That's a lot of chamber love. And a lot of it is deserved. When it comes to promotions, events, marketing, our chamber is first rate. But let's face it, the recently launched economic development effort is an attempt to fill a gaping hole left when village government basically checked out of this fundamental responsibility.
Look around. We see softness on Madison Street where retail, as everywhere, is suffering, where restaurants may have reached a regional saturation point. On Roosevelt Road we have a new streetscape, which is lovely, but empty space at the mall, a long-empty car dealership at Desplaines Avenue, and mish-mash, bordering on derelict housing and obsolete retail spaces.
Yes, there is an expanded TIF in place. But what good is a TIF without a plan, without a driving force? Harlem Avenue? There's a lot of traffic, a lot of potential and a vacant corner at Madison which could have been a Starbucks three years ago but which, inexplicably, didn't happen. There is seemingly a consensus, possibly incorrect we think, but a consensus that some large piece of the Altenheim property ought to be sold for development of some sort.
These are all issues so central to the future of Forest Park that we would be reluctant to see a new mayor and new commissioners simply delegate them to the chamber. Our next elected officials need to embrace village government leadership in growing Forest Park's economy, to empower the village administrator to lead, and, just maybe, to adopt the chamber's new committee as its own village government commission, sounding board, ambassadors and advisors.
The battle to save Westlake Hospital intensified this week with hearings before state agencies, an effort to convince the state's attorney general to investigate, and a lawsuit charging fraud being filed against Pipeline Health, its new and possibly final owner, by the village of Melrose Park.
This is a lot of deserved heat against Pipeline, an out-of-state company, which also bought West Suburban Medical Center and Weiss Memorial in the city. Those two hospitals will, allegedly, survive Pipeline's botched arrival in Chicago.
For Forest Park, Oak Park, River Forest and Austin, these are days to demand that Pipeline follow up on promises to invest notably in our local hospital and in the health of our communities. So far, its word has not been its bond.