The pocket park map changes gears

Two of the smaller so-called ‘pocket parks’ currently maintained by the Park District of Forest Park are due for a makeover this summer, according to executive director Jackie Iovinelli, a linchpin of an earlier plan that included a major renovation of Reiger Park in 2022.

Iovinelli said the nearly $1 million project in Reiger has been put on hold as the Park District awaits a response to an application for an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). This agency sent a letter to applicants on March 18 saying that staffing shortages and an overwhelming number of applicants meant that no decision on awarding grants would be made until this fall. Park officials previously said an IDNR decision on the OSLAD grant was expected last January.

Iovinelli said if the park district goes ahead with work at Reiger, located at 1526 Circle Ave., it could jeopardize the $400,000 in matching funds the park is requesting from IDNR.

“We want to work on these parks but unfortunately we can’t do anything with Reiger Park until we know what’s going on with the grant,” she said. “[If we begin work] we risk losing this opportunity and that is a lot of money.

Work on Reiger Park, the largest of four pocket parks leased by the Park District to the Village, could begin in spring 2023.

The delay at Reiger, however, means work can be done this spring and summer on two other pocket parks – Remembrance Park at 7341 Randolph St. and Popelka Park at the corner of Adams Street and Thomas Avenue. These projects have now come to the fore and could be completed this year.

Iovinelli said rehabilitation at both parks would cost significantly less than Reiger’s estimated total of $800,000 to $1 million, and potential plans will be discussed with the park district board at its April 21 meeting. .

Work at Popelka and Remembrance will be carried out using existing working capital funds and no additional grants or other income will be required to complete the projects. Iovinelli said rehabilitation at Popelka will likely include new playground equipment, and work at Remembrance could include new water spray features as well as the removal of an existing structure. No final decision has been made.

“We’re just trying to shift gears because the $400,000 opportunity [from the OSLAD grant], we don’t want to give that up,” Iovinelli said. “It kind of got out of our hands, and instead of sitting on our hands, we’re going to switch positions and we’re going to go to the others who need work.”

The park district took over the maintenance of four village pocket parks in July 2020 at a nominal rental price of $1 per year.

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