40th Ward Improvements - Your 40th Ward Democratic Committeeman - Patrick O'Connor
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A Conversation with Pat

“The largest thing that we’ve done in terms of parks is the Rosehill Nature Center which was just completed late 2015. It is a passive park of 20+ acres and is the largest addition to park space that the Chicago Park District has made in decades. It’s virgin territory in Rosehill Cemetery around the lake. It has pathways, educational centers, scenic overviews of the lake, and opportunities for people to go boating and fishing. The draw will be citywide, and it will be a wonderful addition to our community.

“This is also a defensive measure: cemeteries historically sell off property that they don’t use. The neighborhood won’t have to fight any kind of development in an area where it’s inappropriate because we’re going to have this park there and it will be preserved forever.

“The Rosehill Cemetery project began with an earmark by freshman Congressman Rahm Emanuel, his first earmark when he went to Congress. He put money aside in a transportation bill for the purchase and preservation of Rosehill Cemetery and then we headed toward that goal through general obligation bonds through the city and some TIF money to finish it off. So it had been in process for over 10 years.

“Integrating with that project we have also put in a new traffic light at Ardmore at Western Avenue because one of the entranceways into the park is located there. The new traffic light proposal went to the Department of Transportation and utilized some TIF dollars for funding. The justification was not just the fact that Western Avenue is one of the busiest streets in the city, but it’s also the entrance point to one of the city’s largest parks. It’s a really great project that has come to fruition and is a great addition for kids.

We knew we needed something that would bring parents and younger children into the park. Nothing does that like a new playground with new equipment and having a place for parents to put the kids in a swing and on a slide.

“I’m doing things in this manner throughout the ward. Pretty much every playlot in our ward has been rebuilt. At Gross Park Playground, we were the first ward to do a match with the Chicago Park District where the Park District utilized its capital dollars and we used our menu money. This approach allowed us to go to CPD and say we will pay for half of this playlot, you pay for the other half. For several years, while Tim Mitchell was running parks, they used our program as a model with all the other alderman throughout the city.

“And it was a really good investment for the reason that the park had a lot of problems with older kids hanging around there and causing trouble. We knew we needed something that would bring parents and younger children into the park. Nothing does that like a new playground with new equipment and having a place for parents to put the kids in a swing and on a slide. Now the area has calmed down significantly and there’s actually a good parents’ group involved in the park as an advisory council, which really helps us manage the area.

Mather Park has one of the newest playgrounds that also includes a water feature, which is unusual for a Chicago Park District Park. The water feature provides a great opportunity for parents who don’t want to actually go to one of the pools still to be able to run around with their kids and get wet and cool down.

Green Briar Park  has recently been updated and has been welcomed by the many young people who’ve moved into that area.

“At Schreiber Park not only did we update their playground, but we reconfigured the basketball courts as well. We actually brought in some public art from the Chicago Historical Society, a well-known Louis Sullivan piece. Unfortunately, a car jumped the curb and smashed it into a million pieces. They tried to rebuild it and move it to another place. So as not to feel defeated, we put another piece of artwork in its place.

“Another thing we did at Schreiber Park was to purchase the 9-12 unit building adjacent. We’d been fighting with the bank that owned it and we had a fence put around it to keep squatters out. We actually went and found the money to purchase the building and created additional park space for the park. So now there’s a beautiful soccer field.  In the afternoon and evening, kids come from different schools and practice football and soccer. It’s a great field.

“And right next to there we have one of our first community vegetable gardens. That was a real plus and somebody wrote a book about the garden itself. The driving force behind the garden was a group of new immigrants to our country that went in and took a portion of that property to create this wonderful vegetable garden. Schreiber Park and the area surrounding it have really come along as a good safe place for neighbors.

“We also reconfigured the intersection. When you drive up to Devon, Ashland and Clark Streets used to split south of Devon, and now they split north of Devon so that the traffic flow is much better. Due to this change, it was also possible to add a little more park space. We were also able to create a little more parking for the hardware store there, which allowed traffic flow to move more easily, lessening street congestion and making it easier for people to cross the street in that area, which citizens had expressed concern about. We installed dog fountains in the park to make it nicer for people to walk their dogs. All in all, this project innovatively addressed many of the concerns expressed by people in that area.

“Additionally, a streetscaping project came around the same time involving Devon from Clark all the way to the lakefront. This project was a nice economic shot in the arm to that area. That streetscape was one of the first places that we used street pavers to designate that you were in Rogers Park and in Edgewater at the same time.

We put this project together and developed the paths so that they would go under the road bridges, creating an uninterrupted bike ride or jogging experience without having to cross streets…It really allows for an uninterrupted ride or run for four miles…The project also opened up the riverscape, which allows for the paddling community.

“We also have Legion Park. A number of things have happened in this park: first a bike and jogging path that goes through the park and up through the north side of our area. This project involved the Army Corps of Engineers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and the Chicago Park District all working together. We put this project together and developed the paths so that they would go under the road bridges, creating an uninterrupted bike ride or jogging experience without having to cross streets. This was a victory for the ward in many ways. In the past people would have been reluctant to have the paths go underneath the bridges because they were afraid kids would be hanging around underneath them, that it would create an environment outside of the public eye. It took a great leap of faith by the community, stating this was something that they wanted. This has been a wonderful experience for the neighborhood. It really allows for an uninterrupted ride or run for four miles.

It’s all part of utilizing the riverfront, which is the second water feature of the city, comparable to Lake Michigan…Legion Park is pretty much the gateway to Chicago’s parks on the river.

“The project also opened up the riverscape, which allows for the paddling community. There are two boat launches in the ward, one at North Side College Prep and a new boathouse at River Park, which cost $9+ million to fund. This allows people to rent boats, or they can bring their own to take into the river and take off down it. It’s all part of utilizing the riverfront, which is the second water feature of the city, comparable to Lake Michigan.

“Also at the Legion Park location was a rundown motel we were instrumental in taking down. This allowed us to build a beautiful park venue with a wonderful fountain entranceway used by many people for their wedding photographs where there used to be a ratty motel. Legion Park is pretty much the gateway to Chicago’s parks on the river. That’s our northern-most park here in the ward. Plus at Legion Park, we have a rollerblade park used by the in-line hockey players, and we have two new playgrounds that were built last year. There are always a number things happening in the park.

“At River Park we again utilized the cost-sharing model with the Chicago Park District. We redid the playground there completely. This was the Park District’s first soft surface playground. We also put in the dog park, which the city paid for entirely, adjacent to the swimming pool area. This is a really nice amenity. We’ve devoted a significant amount of money to making it a very attractive regional park.

“Everyone knows that we have a couple of playlots on Ashland Avenue—Mellin Playlot, which is closer to the Jewel, was recently redone. We actually tried to expand the park there, but we couldn’t get Jewel Corporate to do a land swap with the folks that own the stores on Bryn Mawr there. But the park has been redone. It’s a nice new playlot and is getting a lot of use for the area. It’s one of the smaller pocket parks that exist in the neighborhood, so it gets a lot of use there. To get the funding for it took awhile, then to develop it start to finish probably took about three months. But the funding was a little bit of a trick because the Park District doesn’t put too much emphasis on those pocket parks. They’d prefer not to have them actually.

“We just got the Park District to buy a piece of property on Virginia near Leland at the river. There’s a small playlot there at the river and the CTA owned a piece of property next door to it. So when the remap was done, at the first meeting I had with folks in that area, they told me they were trying to add that property to the park so they could do more things at the playground. I worked with Alderman Pawar, and he and I met with Mr. Claypool at the CTA and essentially worked trying initially to see if we could have them give us the property, but obviously their entities need to account for the money they have. So the Park District bought it from the CTA at kind of a land-grab price. We actually put it out for public bid twice, there were no other entities that would bid on it, essentially because there’s not much they could build there. We actually have it zoned down so no one could build a big building there, which kept the bidding down to nothing. Then the CTA was able to sell it to the Park District. That was a big win for the neighborhood there. They were thrilled that it wasn’t going to be put to some other type of use.

It’s more akin to a village green now than what was there before…Parks have been a pretty consistent theme for my tenure in city government. I think in part it comes from growing up in the parks…They’re a great source of recreation obviously for kids, but they’re also a great place for communities to stay safe.

Ravenswood Manor Park was actually a pretty controversial project because Eastwood used to cut through the middle of that park. We actually designed it so that we cut off Eastwood to allow the park to get bigger and become more of a gathering place. It’s more akin to a village green now than what was there before. Previously there had been two fragmented pieces with the street running through the middle. There was a little controversy to it, and we actually had to do fake runs with the fire department and ambulances to ensure that it would not impede the emergency equipment to get around the park with the new configuration. That was the last ditch effort of the folks who didn’t want to see that park get expanded, was to say that it would jeopardize public safety. So once we were able to prove that that wasn’t the case, then it worked pretty well.

“Also over there is a small little green space that’s named after the folks who started Le Petit Ballet—it’s more of a garden really south of Lawrence on Manor there. LaPoint Park.

“Parks have been a pretty consistent theme for my tenure in city government. I think in part it comes from growing up in the parks. I lifeguarded for a number of years, played softball a lot in the parks, actually got in the softball hall of fame at one time—not for my prowess, but basically for keeping the game alive. 16” softball went through a pretty tough period. So parks have been a big part of our focus. They’re a great source of recreation, obviously, for kids, but they’re also a great place for communities to stay safe. If you can get real people into the parks, then the kind of people who want to hang around and do bad things don’t get to control the park. And that’s a very important point that you can’t lose. If you provide things in parks that will attract legitimate folks, illegitimate folks tend to stay away. That’s been something that’s been great for us.

We’ve done some tremendous things with schools… if you look at the schools that touch our ward, there’s pretty much no school you can find where we haven’t done some upgrading and made additions to the infrastructure. We don’t hire teachers, we don’t make parents be parents, we don’t select the principals, but we can provide a safe, adequate environment for kids to learn in.

“Along with parks obviously is schools. We’ve done some tremendous things with schools. I had an advantage—I was always kind of dealing with inside information because for about twenty years I chaired the Education Committee. It allowed me to know what was going on in the schools at a citywide level. It allowed me to know when they were doing bond issues or when there was money coming available for improvements in areas. I always wanted in terms of dealing with the citywide issues to ensure that our ward was getting its fair share of what the Board of Education was doing. So if you look at the schools that touch our ward, there’s pretty much no school you can find where we haven’t done some upgrading and made additions to the infrastructure. We don’t hire teachers, we don’t make parents be parents, we don’t select the principals, but we can provide a safe, adequate environment for kids to learn in.

“If you want to start at schools we’ve just lost in the remap, Kilmer School has an addition as the result of our efforts to ensure there was enough room in a school that was significantly overcrowded. Sullivan High School, which is immediately across the street, had a real problem in trying to find a way in which the students could be more dedicated to their classroom work—it’s a tough school, there was a lot of transfers in, not necessarily a neighborhood focus. So we have a nursing program that went in there that partnered with a private medical entity to develop a nursing program that has been a really good program for that school. During the time we were doing this, Sullivan went through a number of principals, and one of the principals actually wanted to get rid of the program because it was creating a problem for the balance of the school because it showed that if there was a focus and a curriculum and teachers dedicated to it, then the students would respond. So those students were out-acing the rest of the school, so the principal, rather than trying to find ways to make the school better, actually tried ways to dumb down the whole process. The answer was to get rid of that program. So some LSC members and myself made sure that the ward kept it, and the principal ended up leaving.

Hayt and Clinton basically got their additions at the same time. The Board of Education was looking to build a school at the park up at Pratt and Western. There was a real controversy at the time, Alderman Stone was the alderman there, and initially he had agreed to a school going into that park, and then his community said that they didn’t want a school in the park. And frankly it represented the sentiment of a lot of people at the time that public schools were a nuisance, that having kids in the neighborhood wasn’t something you wanted, so people didn’t want the school there because they just thought it would be a bad thing. So that money that was earmarked for that park was going to lapse if we didn’t find something to do with it. So what we ended up doing was taking the money that would have built that school, dividing it in half, and I went to Hayt and Clinton’s LSC and told them that they needed to consent to additions being built, that we needed to short-circuit the long planning process to try to ensure that the money stayed there. Within a couple of weeks, both LSCs and principals got together and agreed that we could work with the design that the Board of Ed had developed for a couple of other schools’ additions, and we basically took those additions from other places and appended them to the end of the schools that existed there. And both of those schools ended up getting additions that they otherwise weren’t slated for. While Clinton at the time wasn’t in our ward, Hayt was, and Hayt  had already gotten a lunchroom/utility room for a few years before. So Hayt as a school ended up getting a large one-room addition on the east end of the school and shortly thereafter a second addition which was almost as big as the original school on the west end of the building. Hayt really got some great treatment. Working with the LSC there, they have really done some great things in the school, too. They got a grant for doing some computer programming and hardwiring from a private entity to coincide with the addition, so we were able to bring the school into the 21st century at the same time that we were building those new classrooms. And Hayt also got the outside playground redone as part of the addition. Ultimately, we were hoping to add to the west end of the school and take the block all the way up to Clark Street, but the economy slumped at the time, and we weren’t able to finalize that. But there is an outstanding plan that would create a larger green space over there for the neighborhood if we get to the point where the economy comes back.

At the time we sat together, and I said, “You guys are aiming low… you should hang in there and let’s move toward a true addition.”

Peterson School located at Kimball and Bryn Mawr.  I got that area in a remapping situation. The first time I met with the principal and the LSC they were in the process of buying a prefab metal room to add to the end of their school. They were overcrowded, and they thought that if they could price that type of a feature out, they could talk the Board of Ed into giving it to them and then they would use the room for a lunch room/ utility room/ meeting room. At the time we sat together, and I said, “You guys are aiming low, the Board of Ed is looking to do a building program, they’re looking to find places that are overcrowded, you should hang in there and let’s move toward a true addition.” So their addition that we ended up getting is classrooms, cafeteria, a student center where students can congregate, a green roof with plants and vegetables and flowers that they can plant out on the actual rooftop. It was an addition that really did some wonderful work for the school. At the same time we put in some thermal heating and cooling elements into the school, it was one of the first schools that actually tried it, where the power plants are underground and you need less energy in the winter and summertime to heat and cool the school—geothermal. That did a great deal for that school because prior to that they had no air conditioning in the school, and the original plan called for air conditioning only in the new part. But we were able to do the whole thing. The money for the addition also repaired the parapets and sod of the old building, so the old building got a facelift as well. And a campus park with a running track, nice grass inside the track.

Amundsen High School we just picked up in the remap. We were able to get some TIF dollars to go in and do a number of things. We redid their parking lot, which was falling apart. We added a computer lab to the school. And we’re working now with the principal and the Friends of Amundsen on a building program that’ll help the school there. As a school, they have made great strides in academics. I’ve brought the deputy mayor for education out to visit the school, we toured the school, and we’re working on getting some additional dollars for there. The real thing there is there’s a TIF that we can tap a little bit, but we’re trying to get in on the next bond issue the Board of Ed does to try to do some significant stuff at Amundsen.

Obviously when you’re in a remap you’re in a state of transition and flux. Ameya Pawar has been a great partner, we’ve worked closely together and found ways to help address each other’s needs.

“Obviously when you’re in a remap you’re in a state of transition and flux. Ameya Pawar has been a great partner, we’ve worked closely together and found ways to help address each other’s needs. Amundsen is a pretty good example of that.

You have these anchor points—the school, the park, places where school and park come together—we’ve also created corridors … it’s how it impacts the whole neighborhood—you’re not just fixing the gym floor at the school. There’s a lot of vision and planning that goes into it. The schools, like the parks, are places where you can get the public involved, you can get parents and their children to spend time and focus—the rising tide lifts all boats, everything gets better together.

“You have these anchor points—the school, the park, places where school and park come together—we’ve also created corridors like down Damen and the businesses on Foster, turning that police station into a theater, it’s how it impacts the whole neighborhood—you’re not just fixing the gym floor at the school. There’s a lot of vision and planning that goes into it.

“The schools like the parks are places where you can get the public involved, you can get parents and their children to spend time and focus—the rising tide lifts all boats, everything gets better together.

“One of the first things we did after the remap was there’s a huge little league baseball program that takes place out of Welles Park, and in the summertime they use a number of parks—River, Legion, and Amundsen—for part of the season. One of the things they were lacking that they wanted to see if they could do was do some Fall baseball. They’d had trouble coordinating with school and park events to make it work. I’ve always felt that if you can just get a meeting of the right decision makers from different entities, you can get something done. So we brought the folks from the Parks, from the Board of Ed, and from the baseball program together and we met and sat down and said how do we make this work. We made sure everybody was willing to give it a try, and now they have that Fall baseball program.

I graduated from Mather, I bleed Ranger blue, but factually speaking, Amundsen was where we played our home games. I played a lot of football in that stadium. And when I was a little kid, I played little league there…and having had kids who played sports all through grammar school, high school, and college, essentially you get a great appreciation for finding ways to keep them busy and dedicated to the school sports that they’re playing. Because it’s the type of stuff that keeps them out of trouble, keeps them focused, helps them with their school work, so it’s a thing that you want to accommodate if at all possible. Having an ability to help parents help their kids reach their full potential, it’s a rewarding thing.

“I graduated from Mather, I bleed Ranger blue, but factually speaking, Amundsen was where we played our home games. I played a lot of football in that stadium. And when I was a little kid, I played little league there. But little league was different then—little league was Monday through Friday, just kids, no coaches or parents, you had an employee from the Park District who was the umpire. You brought the diamond and the bases out, you rode there on your bike, and off you went. It was a little different then. The games were a lot more quiet then. But they always had a great little league program there, so it was great to see that they wanted to get it back there in the Fall. And having had kids who played sports all through grammar school, high school, and college, essentially you get a great appreciation for finding ways to keep them busy and dedicated to the school sports that they’re playing. Because it’s the type of stuff that keeps them out of trouble, keeps them focused, helps them with their school work, so it’s a thing that you want to accommodate if at all possible. Having an ability to help parents help their kids reach their full potential, it’s a rewarding thing.

“We’ve done a number of things at Budlong School. Budlong is getting its second new playground, that’s in process right now. We’ve got air conditioning going into the school for the first time, the whole school will be air conditioned. And if you went in there before, the washrooms were not in compliance with ADA, and in some cases the washrooms were built for the little kids and not for the parents, so you had to go to different floors to find a washroom that could accommodate you. So we’ve got all that being done this summer, and it should be completed by the time school opens. The money for that is coming from the TIF and we did it in the same TIF deal that we did for Swedish Covenant Hospital, which has expanded a women’s center and emergency room, creating a lot of local jobs.

“If you look at Swedish, a lot of their workforce lives within four zip codes around the hospital, they’re a huge employer for our community. And the women’s center, focused on women’s health, and the emergency room—having had five children, I’ve been in there fairly often—the emergency room is packed to the gills during the weekends. So we got some TIF money to help them. And at the same time took the TIF money to add the Budlong projects. We were able to accomplish both at the same time.

“You’ve got a really dynamic new principal at Budlong – she’s really doing a very good job.

Mather HS we have added on three times in my tenure as alderman. We added classrooms many years ago, and then we recently added a $30 million addition to the school—new library, new entranceway, new classrooms, locker rooms, ADA compliant washrooms, auditorium, gymnasium, pool. We were looking to build a new school in the park and then knock the old school down, but the cost was prohibitive. Mather’s student body numbers and the shape of the school required that we get in there and do what we did. It’s been a really nice addition. There was a statewide problem when the pool was redone because the state had some program where they had to come out and give you permission to reopen your pool. So Mather and a whole bunch of pools throughout the city were not open until the state figured out its problems. When we figured out it was part of the deal that was keeping them closed, we ended up working with the state and the Governor’s office to get them opened. Now the pool is ADA compliant, and it’s been open to the public and to the school body for a long time.

High schools are great anchors in the community…What the campus has done to the whole river walk, riverfront approach that’s gone on, the bike paths, the parks, the paddling community—it’s all part of it.

Northside College Prep for all intents and purposes is one of the best high schools in the state and makes Newsweek Magazine as being one of the best high schools in the country. That school was the result of a meeting I convened with Paul Vallas and about twenty-two other aldermen. The Board of Ed had announced that they were looking to build some new high schools. They hadn’t built any in thirty some years, almost forty years. So they were looking for sites. So Vallas was interested, and he had some places where he wanted to build them. And I said okay, I have a site in our ward. The city had an old salt pile there. It was an old army reserve unit there. There was an old meat packing sausage place that was there. So again, the inside knowledge of knowing what the Board was looking for and trying to do, we downzoned the entire property to R1, which essentially meant that all you could build would be single family homes. So the value of the property was maintained at the lowest possible rate that you could maintain it. And that helped because it meant that the acquisition by the Board of Ed would be at the lowest possible rate so it made it affordable for them. And the fact that the city owned part of it helped. And MWRD owned part, which was helpful. So we put all these aldermen in a room with Vallas and Tim Martin who was in charge of facilities at the time with the Board of Ed and we went around the room, and every alderman was polled as to whether they had a place where they wanted to put a high school, and there was nobody in the room who wanted to do it except for me. And I was relying on that as being part of the strategy because nobody really volunteers to put a high school in their neighborhood. At that time for sure because people had a very poor idea of Chicago public high schools. But I was aware that high schools are great anchors in the community, and I knew that this high school was going to be a special place because they were talking about a selective enrollment type of a setting, which ensured that people would want to live in our community. We actually during the project phase called this Whitney North because we said this would be like Whitney Young. When the school was being discussed, the idea was to have six or seven selective enrollment schools built and then build one or two in the regions that existed for the Board of Ed. So when we redid the regions for the Board of Ed, instead of redrawing them like ward boundaries and trying to find ways to make the populations fit ethnically, racially, we basically said Chicago’s a grid system. No one can accuse you of being a racist if you take the east and west streets and divide the city into six sections—we took the districts from ten to six—and it was the first time that the Board of Ed wasn’t being sued or challenged for having gerrymandered their districts. So when we went to the straight grid type system, the goal was to have a place like Northside, Payton would have been in region two, and you would have had succeeding schools going further south. So Northside was ultimately the first one that was built. And the site interestingly enough, the North River Commission wanted the Board of Ed to give them the school for a North River Commission charter, which I just said is the silliest thing in the world. At the time, we spent $35-40 million on a new school, and we’re going to give it over to a private entity to run? So we ended up keeping it for the Board of Ed, and it’s a great place. You’ve got kids in there who could hack the Pentagon, just that bright and that smart. And you’ve got a great, great venue for our community. There are orchestras that hold concerts in their auditorium. It’s a wonderful place where learning occurs every day.

If you talk to the principals in our community, most of them would indicate that there’s an open door here to help them be successful on a number of fronts.

Plus what the campus has done to the whole river walk, riverfront approach that’s gone on, the bike paths, the parks, the paddling community—it’s all part of it, all part and parcel. At the time, there were some questions about whether it would work, and I think one of my favorite days was getting a phone call from someone who lived in the suburbs and they wanted to know if they tested their kid and got into Northside that they’d move back to Chicago. I thought what a great day that was. There are times in all parents’ lives where they look at where their kids are going to go to school and they basically give themselves a deadline: okay, I’m going to stay in the city this long, or this neighborhood, and then I’m going to move, and so much of it is geared toward school. What we’ve been trying to do is to make our neighborhood schools more accessible and more successful but at the same time provide outlets and venues for kids that otherwise are moving to the suburbs for a better school. It really has been a nice effort that we’ve put forward to address the needs. A lot of them are bricks and mortar, but I think if you talk to the principals in our community, most of them would indicate that there’s an open door here to help them be successful on a number of fronts.

“We’ve got some great stuff that happens in the neighborhood as well. When I first got elected, we had this Lincoln corridor that runs from Western Avenue to Peterson in our area, a lot of motels, a lot of street crime was taking place. And I spent a significant amount of time working to eliminate that type of element in the neighborhood and to find ways to turn motel properties into more productive citizens.

“So if you start at Lincoln and Peterson where Legion Park fountain is, that was the Riverside Motel, which was a real rathole. Now it’s a place where you see people taking wedding pictures on a Saturday or a Sunday. And I have to give the Park District credit—they do a nice, nice job of doing the planting around there, making it look beautiful.

It was one of the newest designs that the library system put in at the time. And it’s one of the most active branch libraries in the city, so it really paid benefits and dividends.

“If you come a little further down we had at the time one of the most expensive branch libraries, and it wasn’t because of the construction but because of the acquisition. We had to buy the motel from there and not only buy the property but essentially buy the business. At the time working with Mayor Daley’s office and with Mary Dempsey as Commissioner, we made the case that there wasn’t a good library venue in our area, certainly in our ward, but more so even the northwest side and that we needed to do something. So the Acres Motel was the next to get demolished, and we’ve got a really wonderful edifice there. It’s a kind of a prairie style library. It was one of the newest designs that the library system put in at the time. And it’s one of the most active branch libraries in the city, so it really paid benefits and dividends. And if you take a look at where it’s located, there are five or six schools within about four blocks—both private, Catholic, Lutheran, and public schools. So it’s a really well-located building as well.

We’ve built a brand new state of the art police station on Lincoln Avenue where the old Spa Motel was…it located the police on a street that used to give us problems.

“And then you take a look at where the police station is—our 20th District police station was one of the oldest station houses in the city, and we’ve built a brand new state of the art police station on Lincoln Avenue where the old Spa Motel was. Spa had a late night bar there that was nothing but problems for the neighborhood. So now you have a state of the art police station there, which helped us in a number of ways. It located the police on a street that used to give us problems. So now you have a lot more police cars just because of its location in the area to keep an eye on the neighborhood. And the other thing that it allowed us to do is that we’ve actually given the old station to a theater company, and although they got hit by the downturn in the economy in 2008/2009, the Griffin Theater Company, which is well recognized and emphasizes a lot of children’s productions, used to be on Clark Street, got kind of priced off of Clark Street because of the rental costs there. They’re raising funds now trying to do a rehab of the old police station, which will again help revitalize along Foster Avenue and continue the revitalization along Damen, which is the location of high schools, so it helps continue the development around there.

If you listen, businessmen will tell you ways you can help them to be more competitive.

“And then we had some private people who helped on Lincoln Avenue. Dominick’s took an old, old store and knocked it down and built a brand new store. And then we had the scare when Dominick’s closed, but we’ve got a Tony’s Fresh Market in there now. By all indications from most people, people are thrilled with what they’re doing. When Dominick’s was looking initially, they were looking to spend money in certain stores, and I met with the regional guy from Dominick’s at the time and basically kind of convinced him that this was a neighborhood that they would do well to invest in. Obviously, their numbers showed that it was. I think Dominick’s real downfall was when they got bought out by Safeway. Being a west coast entity, they didn’t really have a feel for Chicago. So everything had to be done uniformly throughout the country. And they just basically never got Chicago, and that’s really what caused their problems. A simple thing like Krakus ham was the number one seller of ham in the entire city, across the city, and they wanted to take it out because they wanted to put in the ham that they use in California. The guys who were actually running the stores here in Chicago said that’s a mistake, but they just changed a lot of things that local knowledge would have told them not to. When they left, the good thing is instead of leaving an old, decrepit store, that probably wouldn’t have attracted somebody, they left this brand new store that attracted a really good vendor. So we’re happy about that. In working with them, you learn something every day. So when we’re interviewing, talking to people to try to get them to bring their stores in there a lot of them talk about the way it’s hard to do business in the city of Chicago, and talk about liquor sales and how you can sell it early on Sunday because it’s kind of a hangover from the old blue laws. So we went to the City Council and changed the law to allow stores on Sunday to sell liquor earlier. It allows people to have the same shopping patterns they would if they lived in Skokie or Lincolnwood. If you listen, businessmen will tell you ways you can help them to be more competitive. The guys from that store were helpful in changing a citywide policy based on what they wanted to do on Lincoln Avenue. So we’re pretty happy with them.

Now you’ve got a brand new Engine Company 70 firehouse over there on Peterson Avenue and Clark Street. It serves a great purpose over there. It’s one of the newest houses, and it also is a house that has a training pad that other houses from throughout the city and particularly the north side can come, do their drills.

“At one time we were looking to build a new firehouse on Lincoln Avenue, but circumstances changed. So we were going to have another motel that would have been torn down on Lincoln, but I had the funding secured and the site location secured and then the fire department came and said that they wanted to close two stations in the east end of the ward—one over on Ridge and the other was just off Devon… it’s Highland—off of Clark Street. So they had two older stations both of which needed upgrading, and they had one station that had a huge incidence of cancer. It wasn’t clear if it was something that was in the fire house or if the firefighters had gone to a fire or something and been exposed to some stuff over time. There was some thought that there was something in there that was creating the problem. The fire department basically said, “Let’s do this.” So we actually changed the location, and now you’ve got a brand new firehouse over there on Peterson Avenue and Clark Street. It serves a great purpose over there. It’s one of the newest houses, and it also is a house that has a training pad that other houses from throughout the city and particularly the north side can come, do their drills, pull up, hook up their hoses, do all the rest of this stuff. That extra area, that training pad also works as parking for a couple of the businesses and some of the people in the area—particularly when the winter got rough, and there’s off-street parking that’s available to them. It’s cleaned.

“There was a certified grocery store that was across from Hayt, and when we were actually doing an addition for a school that was in Joe Moore’s ward, we were dislocating the Raven Theater, which was a Jeff Award-winning theater in Rogers Park. So they came in to see me to see if we could do something other than build the addition, and I said, “No, the addition has to be built,” because it was part of the school building program. But we found this location and worked with them, got them some state fine arts grant money, got them some member money from then State Senator Lisa Madigan, and some money from the City of Chicago to help them go into this venue and take this certified grocery store and turn it into a really nice theater with a primary theater space and then a smaller theater space. The Raven Theater also teaches in the public school, they do some stuff with the students and particularly partner with Hayt to enhance the fine arts program at Hayt School. That was a great project to work on. It was one of those projects that the Chicago Tribune said was a pork project. One of the nights that they had the theater in there they had a fundraiser for the theater, like a dedication and had all these patrons of the arts in there and they were all kind of chagrined, it had just made the paper that it was a pork project. It just kind of shows you that what you see is not necessarily what you read. Because that’s a project that really deserved to be done, and it’s been a great thing for our community. But it was also important that the city try and work with a theater company that does great work and that otherwise would have not been in business or certainly wouldn’t have been in business in our community. So Rogers Park and Edgewater kept a real treasure there.”

We all live in a neighborhood, so you try to find ways to make the neighborhood have the things that you need. People have very different stages in life. You need something different if you’re older than you do if you’re younger with toddlers. But given the fact that we all live together and we all live in a neighborhood, you have to have that mix to make it a livable and a sustainable place.

“We all live in a neighborhood, so you try to find ways to make the neighborhood have the things that you need. People have very different stages in life. You need something different if you’re older than you do if you’re younger with toddlers. But given the fact that we all live together and we all live in a neighborhood, you have to have that mix to make it a livable and a sustainable place. And that’s a big part.

“One of the first TIF districts in the city was on Peterson Avenue. It initially was a sales tax TIF, which is actually not allowed under state law anymore, but because of its existence we were able to attract Target to come into our neighborhood, and the store that they built was a design that they’d used in other parts of the country but never in Chicago because they weren’t sure that parking under roof was something that would be acceptable to folks in the city. But in effect, that design allowed them to double the size of the store, and the ability to double the size of the store is what convinced them to go into that location. And we had a few million dollars left in the TIF which helped put the deal over the top.”

“ The design is what made it that space work for our citizens. The ability to do the design and the ability to have the money to help them put it there was a big part of it. At one point in time there was a discussion—we were actually saving that piece of property to build a new high school that would have been the Navel Academy that is now in Senn High School. That’s how Senn High School got the Navel Academy—we were saving that piece of property to build a new high school, but Vallas couldn’t commit to me that he would build it within a certain timeframe and so we had Target ready to move forward, we had Vallas saying, “Well, we’ll get to it.” But the shelf life of a school superintendent is only a few years. And so if he didn’t commit and build now, the chances of it being done were fairly limited. So we actually then moved the Rickover Naval Academy into Senn High School and then utilized this property for the new Target. So it was a really nice program for us.”

That’s $19million of an investment into a neighborhood for a school and parents who at one time would have been satisfied if we had just put a new playground in. I think part of it comes from experience—having a working knowledge of how these things work and how they play out is essential.

“There’s a lot of good stuff that’s going on throughout the ward if you look at it geographically. We have been out with the Department of Planning to take a look at the part of Lawrence Avenue that’s come back into the ward since the last remap. It really needs a shot in the arm, there are some stores over there that are closed, there’s some places over there that need work. So we’re working with the Planning Department and the Building Department to find ways that we can either entice the owners to invest or force them to spruce it up, one way or the other.

We’re fortunate that we’ve got strong neighborhood groups. We’ve got people that are willing to give their time. We just need to find ways to focus and do what’s doable.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got strong neighborhood groups. We’ve got people that are willing to give their time. We just need to find ways to focus and do what’s doable. When the people at Jamieson put in their addition, they came in and they were overcrowded, they had kids eating in the hallway. But the LSC came in with their principal, and they really wanted to build a new playground… well, we want to be able to do something, They wanted to show something for their tenure as LSC members but just didn’t have the confidence that they could try to do something bigger. And I said, “No, we’ll shoot for an addition.” It’ll take a little longer, but we’ll get it if you just follow the course. By that time, I had left the Education Committee, but you just knew how to track the money through the system and then make the right overture when it was available. Jamieson is now in the process of receiving a new addition and renovations. That’s bringing in  $19 million of an investment into a neighborhood for a school and parents who at one time would have been satisfied if we had just put a new playground in. I think part of it comes from experience—having a working knowledge of how these things work and how they play out is essential. That’s a big part.”