By Tom Holmes
At its annual meeting on May 8, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce honored three businesses and four developments with its Forest Park Pride Awards, which recognizes individuals' commitment to beautifying the village.
Dorothy Gillian, president of the chamber, said Forest Park National Bank received the award for its support of the chamber, helping with initiatives like Wine Walk and providing free office space
"They will celebrate 75 years of serving the Forest Park community on May 15," she said, adding: "We couldn't do it without you."
McAdam Landscaping received a Pride Award recognizing its 40th anniversary and for hosting the annual Chamber meeting for many years. After accepting the award on behalf of his family-owned business, Rob McAdam, the vice president of the landscaping firm who is also a Chamber board member, thanked the community for supporting them.
"The Forest Park Bank has been a huge help to us, and we wouldn't have found this 165,000 square-foot location if it weren't for Mayor Calderone," he said.
Neil Rembos, owner of Crystal Car Wash who became a Chamber board member last week, accepted a Pride Award for his new business.
"We've been absolutely blown away by the support we've received from the community and everyone in this room who helped us and supported us," Rembos said. "It's become more than a business. We found a new home here and decided to grow with Forest Park."
Gillian explained that, in addition to business owners, the Chamber gives awards to homeowners and developers whose care for their properties brings up the value of every property in town.
McShane-Hibbitts, a developer who owns the property at 7706 Monroe St., received a residential award. So did realtors Dan and Kyra Pych, who tore down a two-flat they had owned at 7425 Dixon St. and built their dream home.
In 1985, the Pychs bought the property on Dixon Street because it included a building with two apartments and a coach house. Dan said they rented out the second-floor apartment and coach house and, with the income earned, were almost able to pay the mortgage on the entire property.
After living in the house on Dixon Street for over three years, they bought another house in Forest Park, moved in, fixed it up, sold it, and moved out of town, while continuing to rent the three units on Dixon Street.
When the time came, and they wanted to move back to Forest Park, they took a second look at the house on Dixon Street. They decided that it would be better to tear it down and build what they refer to as their "dream house," rather than trying to rehab the building.
"When people see the house for the first time," said Kyra, "they often ask us if it is new. To me that's a compliment, because we tried really hard to make it look old so it fits into the neighborhood."
The Pychs noted that they weren't the only developers who wanted to start fresh rather than rehab.
"There is another new construction going up down the street from us and another property getting fixed up. There seems to be a multiplying effect going on," Dan said.
"It is definitely a trend," said Kyra. "There are a lot of people who will pay top dollar for housing here as well as in Oak Park and River Forest."
She acknowledged that many millennials are choosing to rent but added that there are still many who have money and want to invest in a home.
"They want an existing property to be all redone or brand new. They don't want to have to do any upkeep," she said.
In addition to the Pychs, Stanley and Patricia Kudlacz received a Pride Award for a property at 501 Hannah Ave. that they bought several years ago while they were still living in Oak Park. Ready to downsize, they renovated it and moved in.
"It's amazing," said Gillian. "It's still a two-flat. They renovated the second floor where they live up to the attic space. It's delightful. When you drive by you might notice the beautifully refinished garage doors."
Realtors and residents Roman Lewis and April Baker received Pride Awards for developing 439 Thomas Ave. and selling it for the highest price in village history.
In January 2018, the two purchased the home with the intent to "bring it back to its former glory, but with all the bells and whistles that make life easy," Baker said.
She added: "Due to a series of unfortunate events, we were unable to save the original house, so our plans had to change swiftly from rehab to new construction. That also meant that we passed our original completion date and left our original budget in the dust."
A private investor helped fund the new project, which Lewis described as very eco-friendly.
The two explained why they did not think investing large amounts of capital in Forest Park was a gamble.
"I rehabbed my first home at 1026 Beloit in 2016," said Baker, "and I sold it before I listed it."
Lewis, who has been doing construction in town for four years, called Forest Park an ideal location for development, saying: "Home prices are going up here, which makes it harder to find rehabs, because everybody is doing the same thing. People are realizing that, from a property perspective, there is a lot of value in Forest Park."
Their property recently sold for a record breaking $735,000.