River Forest Park District weighs YMCA plans

West Cook Y looking for local agency to kick in $3 million

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

West Cook YMCA is reaching out to the River Forest Park District to see if it might be willing to contribute money and work as a partner to build a second location in Melrose Park.

With the park district looking to expand programming, but lacking land and facilities to do that, the agency has been talking with several governing bodies and nonprofits about the possibility of pooling money to either expand the existing River Forest Community Center, 8020 W. Madison St., replace it with a new building or build a new recreation center elsewhere in River Forest.

The village of River Forest is currently working on a feasibility study to look at the programming needs of the organizations involved, how much all three options would cost and what exactly the three options would look like. 

During its Sept. 9 meeting, the River Forest park board agreed that it wasn't ready to decide whether to take the YMCA up on its offer until that study is complete. The board also wants to get more details as to what the YMCA is offering.

In April 2019, West Cook YMCA announced it was looking to open a second location at the vacant former Menards store at 8311 W. North Ave. in Melrose Park. 

Mike Sletten, the park district's executive director, told the park board that his staff had several meetings with Phillip Jimenez, CEO of West Cook YMCA about the possibility of getting involved in the project as well.  

If the park district was willing to collaborate, however, it would need to contribute $3 million, and commissioners need to make a decision by mid-December, before the YMCA potentially signs a contract with Menards, which still owns the land.

Sletten said the biggest stumbling block is that the park district isn't sure what they would get out of the deal, and whether they would have access to amenities and spaces in the entire building, or just part of it. 

According to a memo to the board, the park district told the YMCA that it needs a "high school sized gymnasium with a walking track, a 1,200 square foot program room, and the possibility of additional programming space weekday mornings and evenings." 

Sletten recommended holding off making the decision on whether to explore the YMCA collaboration until the village's community center study is complete. 

Ross Roloff, park board president, said figuring out exactly what the park district would get out of the collaboration made fiscal sense. And he wondered whether River Forest residents would even use a facility outside the village.

"We know we have people in the village who don't want to cross Harlem [Avenue]," Roloff said. "Do [people] want cross to the other side of Thatcher Woods?"

The park board agreed to follow Sletten's recommendation in order to, as Roloff put it, be able to "compare apples to apples." He said he would want the community to have input on the board's ultimate decision.

"I don't know if we'd have time to turn around a community survey. Maybe we'll have a public hearing, based on the information we have," Roloff said.

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William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 18th, 2019 8:48 AM

Melrose Park already owned the large parcel to the east of 5th Avenue and a little known fact is that the Veteran's Park District, which Melrose Park politically controls, annexed the parcel between 5th and 7th Avenues (east of the Jewel store) around the mid 80s. So there was no need to purchase any property. That's not the case with the parcels east of 1st Avenue, making things far more complicated and uncertain.

Chris Hanson  

Posted: September 17th, 2019 10:52 PM

With Melrose Park taking control and developing the old Maywood Park property, it would be nice to see them do the same with that entire southeast corner of 1st and North Avenue. The current vacant Menards, large dilapidated strip mall, huge unused parking lots, outdated Denny's and McDonald's restaurants, and then the auto body and defunct batting cages just south of the tracks, a consolidation of properties and master plan of reuse would be great to see. Maybe even incorporate the Lincoln Tech site? A much larger live/learn/play plan would be nice leveraging the river nearby, the senior community to the immediate east, existing Lincoln Tech, and then new partners such as the YMCA? Always nice to see properties consolidated and a master plan executed when areas are dilapidated and lack cohesiveness as this area does.

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