Near South Side residents reject park plan
Change is coming to Chicago’s Near South Side in the form of construction and ward redistricting, but residents are determined to have a voice in the community development.
During a March 21 Prairie District Neighborhood Association meeting at Big Steps Church, 2230 S. Michigan Ave., approximately 200 Near South Side residents voted to surrender $3 million in tax increment funds (TIF) to stop the city from constructing a road through Mark Twain Park, 260 E. 16th St., to redirect traffic from Lake Shore Drive and McCormick Place.
The park was originally constructed in 1995 by Central Station Development Corporation, which has expressed intentions of developing the area stretching along Michigan Avenue from 16th Street to the edge of McCormick Place North into several towers above existing Metra and St. Charles rail lines called the Gateway, according to PDNA President and Executive Director Tina Feldstein.
However, the development will require two access roads, and one of the proposed roads will cut through Mark Twain Park and feed into either 15th or 16th streets, Feldstein said.
“We’re talking about another way to look at how a road can secondarily access the Gateway without coming through the neighborhood,” she said.
The park is currently owned and managed by Central Station Development Corporation, but Feldstein said the Chicago Park District agreed to assume ownership in exchange for $3 million in TIF funds to develop and manage the space in the Chicago Parks system.
“The way [Mark Twain Park] is right now is that it is a privately-owned park,” said Nelson Cheng, a representative from the Department of Housing and Economic Development. “The point of what we’re trying to do is … transfer these properties to the [Chicago] Park District so it can actually operate and manage these parks in the South Loop as a collective system.”
Cheng presented two options for the access road: a diagonal cut of 15th Street through the center of the park or a vertical cut of 16th Street under the St. Charles railway, both of which would channel traffic into the neighborhood, he said.
Several residents raised concerns about a major roadway passing by a park where children play, but Tim Desmond, president of Central Station Development Corporation, said the road would probably not become a major thoroughfare. He said residents were mostly afraid of losing the neighborhood atmosphere.
Desmond said the existing 15th and 16th streets handle the overflow traffic, and an additional roadway would not create more traffic, adding that even if the community turns down the roadway now, one of the two options will probably happen in the future. The meeting attendees seemed displeased with Desmond’s explanation and did not accept either option when Feldstein called for a vote, and she said the community’s decision was to surrender the funds instead of developing the park.
Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) also attended the meeting at the invitation of the PDNA. The Near South Side is currently split among the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wards, but once the 2015 ward map goes into effect, the area will be divided among the 3rd, 4th and 25th wards, according to PDNA Vice President John Jacoby. According to Feldstein, the community has standing relationships with the aldermen, and Dowell said residents are welcome to call her office to address issues.
“I think community meetings are a really important way to gauge public opinion,” Dowell said. “I’ve heard [the residents] as it relates to the 15th Street versus 16th Street, and I’m listening … I’m going to look into some other options, if there are any.”
After the discussion about the park, Feldstein brought forward several proposed construction projects and business owners who pitched their plans to the residents for public comment. Among them was Frank Lassandrello, owner of Broad Shoulders Brewing, 2337 S. Michigan Ave., which has received support from the city and the community to rehabilitate the building and open a microbrewery, he said. After two years of planning and license applications, the brewery will open in fall 2013, he said, and the PDNA meeting attendees approved his business plan.
After the meeting, Lassandrello said the community has a strong voice in Motor Row development and he was excited to have community feedback for his business.
“Everybody seems very supportive [of the brewery],” Lassandrello said. “There’s obviously a very strong grassroots effort to try to move forward with the development of the Motor Row district in particular.”