For the second time in recent history, the will partner with a special community board to create another gem worthy of civic pride after the City Council unanimously approved the Forest Park Master Plan Monday night.
The City Council’s approval closed more than two years of public debate on the master plan since it formed the Forest Park Project Board comprised of residents in May 2010 after approving the conceptual master plan. The master plan came to the City Council
“It’s a different master plan and more importantly, it’s a better master plan,” said Ralph Gesualdo, president of the Forest Park Project Board. “I think it’s a plan that better represents the community’s wants and desires for Forest Park by honoring its historic significance.”
The most recent example of a large-scale public-private partnership in Lake Forest was Market Square 2000, when the downtown shopping district received a major facelift in the last decade. Such partnerships not only take the financial burden off the municipality by allowing the special board to run the project, but also reduces the cost of the project by up to 20 percent, according to City Manager Bob Kiely, because costly state regulations are not involved as they would be in a public project.
The next step will be starting to put price tags on the work laid out by the Forest Park Master Plan. The absence of a price for the entire project has been a sticking point over the past two years, and was brought up again during Monday night’s public comment
In response, Kiely said, “it’s very difficult to come up with a budget when you yet don’t have a plan.”
City staff will work with the Forest Park Board to create an agreement pending City Council approval that will break down the cost structure and indicate who will be paying for what. The City has already earmarked $100,000 for , but the rest will come from private donations.
In answer to skepticism over the ability to raise the money needed for Forest Park, Mayor James Cowhey indicated he has seen such money raised before.
“We live in a very unique community that a lot of people are able to contribute not just their time, talent and their checkbooks to help make the community the beautiful place we live in,” Cowhey said. “That might be an argument in some communities, but I’m not sure it holds true for us.”
Alderman Catherine Waldeck asked how the project proceeds as money is raised. Kiely noted during the Market Square project, there was a stipulation in place where 75 percent of the budget had to be collected before any work was done.
“This case is different,” he said. “This project can be broken down into certain components that would allow people to donate for that part of the project and once the money comes in, we could go ahead. The timing of how we do that will have to be discussed as we move forward.”
Alderman Stanford Tack said he did not want the breakdown of donations by components to include naming rights. “This should be looked at as a gift to the city,” he said.
Two other areas also brought up during public comment were parking and the idea of whether the master plan was necessary in place of simply restoring parts of Forest Park.
The master plans indicates up to 70 cars could be parked at Forest Park on special occasions, such as the Fourth of July, and generally never number more than a half dozen a year, according to Kiely. Kiely said the parking plan at present for such occasions is using the north beach parking lot, the parking lot south of Forest Park, the boat lot and then park cars around the ring road.
In his comment, Alderman Mike Adelman said simple restoration would not allow Forest Park to “measure up to the other gems in town,” like Market Square or Elawa Farm.
However, he also cautioned city staff to ensure the Forest Park Project does not come back to burden the city and ultimately taxpayers.
That was the same message from Lake Forest resident Sandy GaNun during public comment.
“This project can become either a stellar project or a black eye for both the city of Lake Forest and the Lake Forest Garden Club depending upon how specific design and financial issues are handled going forward,” he said. “Please be very careful on how you proceed. Lake Forest likes to be known as a special place. Please don’t let it be known as a place of special interests.”