River Forest trustees have imagined a new community center for the village, and recently agreed to collaborate with other taxing bodies on how to rehabilitate, renovate or redevelop the old Civic Center Authority into a larger community space. 

Trustees voted  4-1 at a village board meeting on April 23—with Trustee Respicio Vazquez recusing himself, Tom Cargie dissenting and Carmela Corsini absent—to work with officials from the River Forest Park District, Township and nonprofit Community Center to commission a study on how best to turn 8020 Madison St. into a larger community space. Village Administrator Eric Palm added that he expects officials from the River Forest Public Library, Civic Center Authority and District 90 schools to “strongly consider participation” in the agreement as well. 

Since the majority of trustees approved the study, the contract will move among the other taxing bodies and nonprofit over the next month. If all sign on to the intergovernmental agreement, the village must issue a request for proposals by July 1 and have the study completed by the end of 2018, according to the new agreement. Palm said he did not know how much developing the study would cost. 

“What is our community going to look like 50 years from now? Forty years from now? If we don’t start setting the seeds today it won’t get to that point,” said Village President Cathy Adduci, noting that it’s not always easy for the village to bring taxing bodies together. “We all have to be visionaries as far as the community center.” 

The study would be financed through funds from the Madison Street Tax Increment Financing district (TIF), which stretches from Thatcher Road to Lathrop Avenue. The village has twice loaned money to the Madison Street TIF over the past year, for the purchase of a single-family home in April and the old Lutheran Children and Family Services building in November 2017. The Madison Street TIF will have until the district expires in 2039 to pay off its $1.34 million in new loans, and is expected to generate $119,037 in revenue during fiscal year 2019, according to the village budget. If redevelopment of the Civic Center were to occur, the village is unsure how it would be paid for and what entity would govern the new facility, according to a village memo.  

Trustee Cargie said it’s inappropriate the River Forest Community Center will have a say in how public dollars are spent since the nonprofit is not a taxing authority. 

“Taxpayers are paying for something that will benefit a non-taxing body, that’s the concern that I have with this agreement,” Cargie said, later voting against collaborating on the study. 

The Community Center has been the principal lessee of the Civic Center since the building opened in 1993 and has used money generated from its programs held at the building to defray the Civic Center’s maintenance costs, according to the new agreement. It is located on the same site as the Civic Center.

“I am pleased that this has gotten to a point of an intergovernmental agreement between all of the taxing bodies,” said Adduci, noting that TIF funds have been used in the past to fund feasibility studies. “That means that all the taxing bodies are interested in talking about a feasibility study, in hearing what the community might need or would like in  a community center. I think this is a great step toward a great collaboration between all parties.” 

Trustees’ idea for a new community center came late last year, after the Park District of River Forest closed its discussions with Park District of Oak Park and Oak Park District 200 schools about building a joint community center for the villages. At that time, Palm and Adduci met with River Forest Park District officials to talk about other options for a community center—discussing what it could look like and where it could go—while realizing the village’s location options are limited and that they feel hesitant taking any property off the tax rolls. 

After that conversation, Palm then met with officials from the River Forest Community Center and Civic Center Authority. Officials again agreed that building a new community center at that location or somewhere else in River Forest was a good idea. 

If all entities agree to the official intergovernmental agreement—and all have informally agreed to the idea, according to Palm—the group will commission a study to look at the resources needed to demolish and build a new building at 8020 Madison St.; expand the existing Civic Center; or build a new center at a different location in River Forest.

“I think this is more than just a rec building, it would be a true community facility, that’s the whole point of the feasibility study,” Adduci said. “Frankly, the timing is now and the timing is right to do this.” 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com 

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