Creating a Downtown: ULI Chicago and the Campaign for Sensible Growth offer ideas to Park Forest leaders - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Creating a Downtown: ULI Chicago and the Campaign for Sensible Growth offer ideas to Park Forest leaders

MPC brings mayors and members of the Campaign for Sensible Growth and ULI Chicago to the same table. The result? Experts weighing in on local challenges in south suburban Park Forest and Riverdale.

Park Forest, a model community planned and built by development pioneer Phil Klutznick in 1959, is once again a leader in development trends.  The village was once home to the Chicago region’s first regional shopping mall, the Park Forest Plaza, which had over 500,000 square feet of retail space and included department stores Marshall Field’s and Sears. After the mall failed in the early 1990s, the Village could not allow the center of its community continue to whither.  It purchased the mall in 1995 and is working to convert it into a suburban downtown.

On July 30 and 31, a partnership of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Chicago and the Campaign for Sensible Growth organized a technical assistance panel of 10 experts in real estate, retail, housing, market analysis, planning and development. Their task? To figure out the "how."  

The panel, chaired by John Mays, former chair of ULI Chicago, reviewed stacks of Park Forest’s planning documents including comprehensive plans, consultant studies, demographic information and maps in preparation for their assignment. The experts spent two full days on site in an area near the former mall known as DownTown Park Forest, evaluating the market and developing recommendations, interviewing community leaders, business owners and local residents, and walking through the site. 

The panel presented its findings in a public meeting to more than 50 local leaders. Recommendations supported on-going efforts to revitalize the downtown area, but included some strategic proposals, such as: reduce the amount of retail space by another 100,000 square feet and cluster tenants with complementary uses; increase the housing units in DownTown by some 325 units which would yield 700 new residents nearby the shopping and entertainment district; and change the village’s governance structure from one in which elections are held annually with board members serving three year terms to a system that allows for a four year terms in office. This was recommended to improve the continuity of the board.  Additional recommendations included a proposed organizational structure for the redevelopment effort, including hiring a professional marketing and leasing firm to increase the exposure of DownTown Park Forest both to tenants and consumers.

These recommendations reflected the relevant expertise and experience of the ULI participants and their knowledge of the Chicago region’s marketplace, as well as national trends. Community stakeholders responded favorably to the report, which reinforces the importance of the downtown center. They said that the panel's recommendations were “just what the village needed to know” to build on the vision of a revitalized downtown. And, just days after the panel concluded their work, the village had already moved forward on one recommendation: changing the election cycle of its board.  As John Ostenburg, village president, said, “we’re going to be constantly looking for options that will help make Park Forest successful.”

 The Park Forest panel is one of three panels being conducted by the Campaign for Sensible Growth and ULI Chicago this year.  On Aug. 20 and 21, the partners will continued with a south suburban focus by launching a year long effort to assist the Village of Riverdale with its efforts to provide quality housing opportunities for its residents.  The Riverdale panel was chaired by Charles Hill, former president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.  Earlier in 2003, a panel was convened to help Hanover Park create a new Village Center on 22 vacant acres across from its Metra train station. The Campaign for Sensible Growth and ULI Chicago have also conducted panels for Highland Park, Highwood, Humboldt Park and Richmond as part of a regional strategy to put sensible growth strategies into local actions.

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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