Adding a touch of Green, Pink to West Loop

By Michael Ranieri

The lives of West Loop residents living and working between Ashland Avenue and Clinton Street are to be brightened by a shorter walk come mid-2012.

The Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Department of Transportation are collaborating to bring citizens more stops along the Green and Pink el lines. Local businesses around the site said they are looking forward to increased business activity and residential growth, but some of the local businesses have voiced concern about construction and parking.

According to CDOT Spokesman Brian Steele, in 2002 CDOT worked in conjunction with the CTA and did a potential ridership study for a new Green Line station. During that year, Morgan Street was the No. 2 location of potential ridership after Western Avenue. However, in the past eight years Morgan Street has taken the lead.

The increase in business activity combined with more residents moving into the community were  factors in determining where the station would be built, but the obtainable money sealed the deal, according to Steele.

“The biggest driving factor behind the project was the availability of funding,” Steele said.

The project was made possible by Tax Increment Financing, which is how tax dollars are set aside by the city of Chicago for projects like infrastructure improvements and community development.

Around the Morgan Street and Lake Street radius there are businesses on every corner.  Reactions from local businesses for the most part were positive, but concerns did come up, particularly over the plans for construction and parking.

One of the more negatively affected businesses at the moment is G-Cue Billiards and Restaurant, 157 N. Morgan St., owned by Penny Kokkalias. While the future is something she’s looking forward to, the present has many obstacles of its own.  Of the signs surrounding her business, one reads “Road Closed” and another says “Sidewalk Closed.”

According to Kokkalias, the construction project made it so “none of our customers could get through, even to pick up a lunch order.” It went on for two more weeks.

Kokkalias said after losing business since construction began, she tried to reach people in charge of the project, but to no avail. One of her ideas was to ask the city for a sign stating where G-Cue’s location was, but her call was not returned.

“We’ve been here for over six years [and] we should get some consideration,” Kokkalias said. “I think the small businesses in America should count for something … I’m sure if [my restaurant] belonged to some big corporation it would be handled differently.”

Anthony King, a dentist with a practice on Fulton Street called Private Dental Services, said he is excited about the new station. As  a suburban native, he plans on using the station once it’s completed.

“What we’ve noticed here in the West Loop is that there’s really nowhere for the el to stop,” King said. “I’ll probably take the el myself. Sometimes I take the Metra and have to catch a cab here, but it might be a little easier if my wife drops me off at a different spot, and I can get on the el.”

However, he is also aware of problems and his sentiments are with his customers.

“I think it will negatively affect us just for the period of time that the construction is here,” King said. “A lot of people don’t know their way around the area, [and] with all the good there comes some bad.”

Kim Dalton, owner of a small diner called Dino’s Morgan Inn, 943 W. Fulton Market, is aware of the temporary setbacks that will affect the community. Though she said construction wouldn’t personally impact her restaurant, she was concerned for workers and residents.

“I think something that could be negative is just how parking will be worse for the residents already here and also for the workers who depend on a car,” Dalton said. “I think it’ll be great for everybody, except for maybe causing a little more congestion.”