Village of Park Forest: Looking Back on 2013, Looking Forward to 2014

John Ostenburg

Commentary
By John A. Ostenburg
Mayor of Park Forest, IL

To a great extent, 2013 was a year of transitions in the Village of Park Forest.

Ken Kramer, the longest serving Trustee in the history of Park Forest, decided not to seek re-election and retired, thus ending his 28-year career as an elected official in the Village. In addition, Trustee Bonita Dillard also didn’t seek re-election, ending her 15-year tenure as a Board member.

Elected to replace the two retirees were Trustee Theresa Settles and Trustee JeRome Brown.

On the administrative side, John Joyce retired as Director of Recreation and Parks with a record 39 years of service in that post, and was replaced by his long-time assistant, Rob Gunther. Another longstanding staff member, Deputy Chief of Police Mike McNamara – 32 years with the Village – retired to be replaced by Chris Mannino.

Other transitions were the retirement of Fire Chief Bob Wilcox, who was replaced by his Deputy Chief, Bruce Ziegle; and the retirement of Director of Public Works Ken Eyer, also replaced by his assistant, Roderick Ysaguirre.

At the same time, Village Attorney Paul Stephanides, who had been associated with the law firm of Robbins Schwartz, left the Village to accept a position as in-house attorney for the Village of Oak Park. The new Village Attorney is Felicia Frazier of the firm of Odelson & Sterk.

Roadways and structures also underwent some transitions during 2013, as the Village continued to utilize outside funding to complete a number of important public works projects.

A revitalized Orchard Drive opened to motorists during the year. The $10 million project cost Park Forest taxpayers only $500,000, with the remainder coming in grants and other assistance. The major Village thoroughfares of Blackhawk Drive, Indianwood Drive, and Lakewood Boulevard received major resurfacing work, with 70 percent of the costs being covered by grants.

Grant funding also allowed the Village of complete the $2.5 million demolition of four deteriorated structures – the former Wildwood School, the former Zee-One Honda Building on Lincoln Highway, the former Norwood Square complex on Western Avenue, and the former ByUs Building in Downtown Park Forest – with Village residents paying only $250,000 toward those costs.

The Village also received some outside funding assistance to undertake two major recreational projects during the past year. Funding that was received from the Canadian National railway system (CN) paid for the construction of a new rail-fan park and train-observation platform near the Matteson Metra Station, and outside donations from a number of sources helped defray costs for the re-construction of the wetlands observation deck in Central Park that had been destroyed by fire during the previous year.

On the economic development side, the Village saw a number of new businesses open their doors during 2013.

The Dollar General store on Main Street near Western Avenue is the latest business to open, and provides residents with a large selection of food items and household products. The Sapphire Room in Downtown Park Forest had its opening not too long prior to Dollar General. It serves as a restaurant, billiard room, bar, and entertainment venue.

Other new Downtown Park Forest businesses include the Lucky Chinese Restaurant, Lady Like Fashions, and Cindy’s Nails. Franciscan Physicians Alliance also opened an office near Village Hall and now provides healthcare services to residents of the greater Park Forest area.

Village residents saw a little more money in their pockets during 2013 as a result of the electrical aggregation plan approved by voters during the previous year. The Village-wide joint-purchase of electricity brought a total savings of nearly $1 million, with the average household seeing a $158 decrease in its ComEd bills over the 12-month timetable.

Going forward in 2014, the Village will continue its efforts to identify outside funding sources to the greatest extent possible in order to make necessary infrastructure improvements with minimal cost to local taxpayers. Housing issues will continue to be a major area of focus, with the goal of putting foreclosed and abandoned structures into the hands of homeowners and back on the tax rolls. At the same time, the Village will continue its concerted efforts to attract new businesses and to provide residents with proper public safety services and adequate recreational facilities.

Finally, 2014 will find the Village of Park Forest continuing to work for fulfillment of its Sustainability Plan, which recently received the 2013 Sustainability Award from the Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association. The Village’s plan is focused on sustaining the quality of life for its residents by assuring that environmental, fiscal, and human resources provide the best opportunities for a healthy and affordable existence.

Views expressed are those of Mayor John A. Ostenburg only and do not necessary reflect opinions of others associated with the Village of Park Forest.