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A citizens group with the acronym CRAP is fighting the River Forest Park District’s $8 million referendum to build a recreation center.

However, the committee may not be an actual local citizens organization, but a rival fitness club business.

Citizens for Responsible Activities and Parks has paid for an ad scheduled to appear in the Jan. 28 edition of the Forest Leaves.

The cashiers check that arrived Tuesday morning to pay for the ad had the name of the citizens group on it.

However, there is no public record that the group exists, and it is unclear who organized the committee or who are its members.

The group is not listed with Illinois State Board of Elections’ Web site. It has not filed with the Illinois Secretary of State, which collects filings for not-for-profit corporations. A general Web search for the committee also came back with no results.

The ad space was originally requested by Chris Colletti, creative marketing director with Formula Fitness Clubs based in Chicago.

The original ad was never cancelled, but paid for with the cashiers check.

Formula Fitness Clubs operates a health club at 1114 Lake St. in Oak Park. The location’s general manager, Jeff Long, said the club did not place the ad.

“From my understanding, a citizens group is placing this ad. Not us,” Long said. “We’re not paying for it.”

Long said he did not know who was involved in the citizens group.

Colletti and Fitness Formula Clubs founder and CEO Gale Landers did not return calls Monday and Tuesday seeking comment.

In the ad, its sponsor claims, “River Forest families already have low-cost exercise and recreation options provided by local health club businesses that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in real estate taxes.”

It urges residents to vote down the park district’s referendum. The referendum would allow the park district to continue a bond that is set to soon expire. The $8 million it would borrow if the referendum is passed would be used to purchase and convert the Oilily Building, 103 Forest Ave., into a recreation center.

If voters do not pass the referendum, they will instead save on their taxes, between $119 and $150 for the owner of a $500,000 home, the park district has said.

The ad refers to statistics from American Sports Data, a market research group that provided data on sports and fitness participation in the United States. American Sports Data reports that only 13 percent of Americans belong to a fitness club or center.

American Sports Data’s Web site could not be accessed Tuesday morning and its phone number went straight to voice mail without specific identification connected with it.

“When a government fitness facility duplicates services already offered by tax-paying health clubs, then taxpayers are bearing costs for services that 90 percent of them will not use,” the ad says.