State of the 27th Ward (2017)

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017 Neighbors of West Loop hosted a “State of the 27th Ward” event at Haymarket Pub & Brewery (737 W. Randolph). During the event, Alderman Walter Burnett led a discussion about current topics of interest in the 27th Ward and the West Loop as a whole, including public safety, development, and infrastructure needs.  NoWL was honored to have Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward), Chicago Department of Planning & Development Commissioner David Reifman, and Chicago Police Department District 12 Captain Philip Kwasinski present to join in the discussion.

Ald. Burnett began his presentation by talking about many of the numerous Near West Side development projects that have been built in recent years, are now under construction, or are being considered. He also spoke about the importance of following the community process for development and how the new West Loop Design Guidelines would help the process. In particular, the alderman mentioned the different hotels that are coming to the neighborhood, including two that have not yet been announced.  The West Loop is the new downtown for Chicago and he sees the West Loop as the new jobs center for Chicago with new companies moving in.

Related to this development, the alderman talked about how developer donations and the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus was providing funding for infrastructure projects like the Skinner West Elementary Annex/Brown Elementary STEM program (Brown will also soon have a magnet component), the new Skinner Park fieldhouse, and the new West Loop branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Developer donations from West Loop projects also provide for affordable senior residence buildings in the 27th ward outside of the West Loop.  This portion of the presentation covered the pending relocation of the Chicago Police Academy and the City’s options for the property: a new community high school, an extension of Skinner Park, expansion of Whitney Young High School (with a neighborhood component), or a private sale.

The alderman next listed some infrastructure improvements around the neighborhood, including the Fulton Market Streetscape Project, the forthcoming traffic signal at Morgan & Lake, and parking restrictions along the Morgan Street north of Randolph. The planned West Loop permit parking program is still coming soon. Looking further west, Ald. Burnett mentioned the Blackhawks new facility $65M training facility on Jackson just west of Ogden and the new L station at Damon & Lake.

Just before the question & answer session the discussion turned to public safety, a key topic for most West Loopers in light of the recent spike in crime. The alderman talked about the adverse effects of combining the 12th and 13th police districts back in 2013 and the relocation of the station from Monroe & Racine to 1412 S. Blue Island. In particular, the change led to a decrease in personnel and a larger area to cover. In response, Ald. Burnett and Ald. Solis are pushing for District 12 to be split again so that a station can be established in the West Loop again. The aldermen are also working on a security plan for the neighborhood that might include things like a business curfew. He also emphasized the need for the community to band together to reduce crime through better communication.

David Reifman, Commissioner of the Department of Planning & Economic Development remarks

  • The City sees the West Loop as a economic center for jobs and they are trying to achieve balance with the growth in density.
  • Thus far, over $800,000 has been collected for local improvements from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. There are additional commitments ($4M total) from developments in the West Loop.
  • More affordable housing is coming to the West Loop.

Q&A SESSION:

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All four of the City officials took the stage for the Q&A session to answer questions from the audience. The following is a summary of discussion. Please watch the recorded discussion (the orientation is corrected roughly 28 minutes into the video). You can use the timeline below to jump to the topics that matter the most to you.

Questions submitted by the attendees were grouped into categories and read to the panel based on the number of questions received.

A. SAFETY CONCERNS QUESTIONS top the list with 5 questions.

  1. With the increase in violent crime, what steps are you taking to increase the police presence in the West Loop?  We need a visible police presence…more cars patrolling to show criminals that they can’t take over our neighborhoods.
  2. Alderman, Thank you for All that you do.  Thank you for this meeting to hear our voices. (1). Our neighborhood pays a disproportionate amount of taxes, we deserve a disproportionate amount of police presence.  Please help.  (2) The West Loop is an engine for the entire city, please don’t let crime ruin this momentum!
  3. A lot of the neighborhood are scared because of all the crime.  When or how can we get more police patrols?
  4. We are sitting on $97 million in TIF money.  can an allocation of $5 million is given to help with lighting + cameras outside for businesses?  Can Alderman Burnett please help with this. I would like to focus on safety vs. streetscaping.  Thank you.  
  5. What is your plan for the safety of West Loop?  What are you doing about the crime?

ANSWERS re: what steps are being taken to increase police presence and the establishment of a security plan?

  • The CPD 12th District was combined with the 13th some years back, creating a larger area to be covered. Personnel numbers in the district dropped soon thereafter when police officers retired and not replaced.  The 12th District currently includes West Humbolt Park and Pilsen, areas which have a lot of violent crime and the police are putting a lot of resources there.
  • Aldermen Burnett and Solis have asked for more police officers and for the districts to be separated again at a recent budget hearing. The Superintendent is willing to work with them on it. The aldermen will work with the mayor as well.  The City of Chicago is adding 100 new officers per month for the next 18 months so we’ll be seeing additional police.
  • Alderman Burnett is working with the Greektown SSA to establish a security plan along with businesses on Madison and Fulton for the business areas.  Worked to end the 24 hour restaurants in Greek Town which has contributed to some of the violent crime in the neighborhood by having them close at 4am and requiring them to hire security during the late hours.
  • Alderman Solis supports better lighting in areas that need it. He also emphasized that it is important for residents to call the police when they witness a crime, hear a gunshot, etc.
  • The police plans to hire 100 new police officers per month until the end of next year.
  • Captain Kaswanski announced that Sgt Christopher Schenk can perform a free security assessment for residents or businesses if requested. Email him at christoph.schenk@chicagopolice.org.

ANSWERS re: can TIF funds be used for safety improvements like lighting?

  • The aldermen announced that some TIF funds are being used to balance the City budget for 2018.
  • TIF funds can be used for lighting improvements.  Alderman Burnett stated that if people provide him specific address that they would like more lighting, he’ll try to get it done.

B. WEST LOOP DESIGN GUIDELINES (WLDG) – 2 Questions

  1. Will the West Loop Design Guidelines take the place of community meetings?
  2. Why are the West Loop Design Guidelines ambiguous?  Everyone reads them differently.

ANSWERS re: West Loop Design Guidelines and the community process

  • Commissioner Reifman : No, the community process will still be followed and that the WLDG were a tool to be used to focus the reviews.  The WLDG identified general community concerns like where height should be located vs. where lower height buildings should be located by street and location so that we didn’t have to start over again with each development. (Timemark: 1:10)
  • Alderman Burnett: No, there is still the need for community process and community meetings, the West Loop design guidelines are a base to start with.

ANSWERS re:  the ambiguity of  Design Guidelines.

  • Commissioner Reifman disagreed that there is ambiguity associated with the guidelines. Every block is different and there are different guidelines to address the differences so that the developers know what should go on each block.  The guidelines are very robust in terms of setting standards for open space, height by block, etc.  The City is trying to attract world-class architects avoid cookie-cutter projects.

C. GREEN SPACE and SKINNER PARK QUESTIONS – 5 questions

  1. How is the City addressing the lack of parks in the West Loop? 
  2. Can Skinner Park be made bigger?  Especially since both Skinner School and Whitney Young use Skinner Park and there is now a 500+ student expansion at Skinner School.
  3. A lot of seniors want a zero depth pool at Skinner Park’s new fieldhouse.  What do we have to do to get one?
  4. Are we getting a zero depth pool in the new fieldhouse at Skinner Park?  Everyone I know really wants one at Skinner Park. 
  5. Would it not make sense to expand Skinner Park given that Skinner School is being expanded and there is now talk of expanding Whitney Young as well?  Skinner Park has to serve the community as well as the schools.

ANSWERS re: Green Space and Skinner Park

  • Alderman Burnett: The challenge is that the City does not own a lot of public property in the West Loop which makes it hard to build more parks.  We have worked to add more park land in the West Loop with Bartelme Park using land from the State of IL and using the land from a city-owned building for a large dog park at Skinner Park instead of a small dog park in the school parking lot.  If the opportunity comes up and if public property becomes available and that is the best use then we would work to add more park land.
  • There is a need for a field house at Skinner Park, there is a one room field house currently and some bathrooms to run after-school programs, and to serve the rest of the community, etc.  We are trying to build one of the largest field house at Skinner Park but we are trying to balance the need for  field house vs. green space that the community also need/wants.  The Park District thinks that they do not have enough funding for a pool at Skinner Park as it’s expensive and they are concerned that the pool will take up too much space within Skinner Park.  We are still working with the Park District on funding a new field house and find that balance.  A new field house will be built at Skinner Park because there is a need.

D. WARD BOUNDARIES and REMAPPING – 2 questions:

  1. Once the 2020 census is completed, the ward remapping will start.  Can we hope to have ONE ALDERMAN in the West Loop instead of 4?
  2. With so many wards (and police beats)  in the community, how effective are the wards (and police beats) at addressing crime problems, and is there an opportunity to re-draw borders?

ANSWERS re: whether one alderman or one police district beats be created  for the West Loop?

  • Alderman Burnett: It is hard to say at this point but it’s possible that one alderman and represent the West Loop but with every remap, they try to make each ward the same size in terms of population.  It one alderman wants the entire West Loop it’s possible but then we need to figure our diversity because the City was sued over that and lost so there are a lot of things to consider in remapping.  There is still the 2018 elections to get thru before any remapping work.
  • With respect to police boundaries, Aldermen across the city often ask for police districts to align with aldermanic wards but it has never been done. Within the 27th ward, there are currently 4 police districts.

E. NEIGHBORHOOD OPPORTUNITY BONUS FUND – 2 Questions:

  1. Neighborhood Opportunity Funds were supposed to be used for public realm improvements but to date, have been only “discussed” as being used for capital improvement projects like the library and Skinner School.  Why isn’t that fund being used properly?
  2. Can we please get an accounting of all Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus Funds, impact funds, developer donations, etc. and where the money has gone?

ANSWERS re: how Neighborhood Opportunity Fund dollars are being used?

Commissioner Reifman answered :

  • The NOF funds from the McDonald’s headquarters are being applied toward the West Loop library.
  • There are $4.2M of NOF dollars to be applied to the West Loop thus far but not all have been collected.  Not all of the NOB are in the 27th ward.  The City will not “advance” monies on funds not collected to jump start any public infrastructure project because some projects will not materialized.
  • Most of the NOF in the pipeline are in the 42nd, 27th, and 25th wards.  NOF funds in the 27th ward are going to either the library or the Skinner Park fieldhouse.
  • Spending of the NOF dollars will be reported to the City Council at least once per year.
  • Community meetings on each development can help to identify new projects for NOF dollars.

Alderman Burnett added:

  • “Most of the things that we ask for we generally get. And we do have other resources over here to make some things to happen…If there’s something [the community] is interested in, just ask and we’ll try to get it. It may not come right away, but we’ll get it done.”
  • Developers provide another potential source for funding neighborhood improvements.

CONSTRUCTION IMPACT ON INFRASTRUCTURE – 1 Question: 

  1.  How is the City managing how this large construction is affecting the infrastructure.  Many of our buildings and sewers are over 100 years old.

ANSWERS re: construction impact on infrastructure.

Alderman Burnett answered:

  • The City made the commitments years ago to replace all the sewers and water lines across the city so that has already been committed.
  • Streets and sidewalks are addressed through the menu program
  • The City will funds some of the streets and sidewalks as part of the overall city budget due to amount of traffic in the area.  The City spends a lot of money in the downtown area and areas that touch downtown, like Near North, South Loop, West Loop.  Now that the City considers the West Loop part of downtown, there is the added benefit that the city will spend money to make these infrastructure improvements as part of the overall city budget without us having to use menu funds which has to be spread across the entire ward.

CTA QUESTION – 1 question:

  1. Why will the new L stop near the United Center be on the Green Line vs. the Pink Line?

ANSWER re: CTA’s new L stop near the UC.

  • Alderman Burnett stated that the new station will fill the gap between Ashland and California and that that location on the Green line provided more connectivity for the neighborhoods in that area who was lacking public transit.

SERVICES FOR SENIORS – 1 question

  1. I would like to know if we are thinking about how we might serve the “Sage” community? AKA Senior Citizens.  There are many in the West Loop and Fulton Market.

ANSWER re; what are we doing to serve / protect the seniors in the neighborhood?

  • Ald. Burnett has been pushing for affordable housing to benefit older residents that cannot pay higher prices so that they can afford to stay in the West Loop.  More than 1/3 of the West Loop are baby boomers that are about to retire.  West Loop demographics are 1/3 millennials. 1/3 baby boomers, and everyone else goest in the remaining 1/3 ( not counting children ).  So the challenge is to balance the needs of these groups.
  • More funding is being sought for care facilities.
Timestamp Topic
0:00 NoWL introduction
12:33 Burnett presentation begins
13:23 Fulton West (1330 W. Fulton) ribbon cutting for Glassdoor
14:40 “Over 5,000 jobs, 800 hotel rooms, and 3,000 new residents are coming to Fulton Market.”
15:05 Two new hotels looking at the West Loop and several other residential developments coming
15:34 27th Ward development review process
16:15 Development moving west
17:35 Introduction of 27th Ward staff
19:05 Overview of presentation slides
19:34 Review of the 27th Ward
21:25 Discussion of various developments in the 27th Ward
(27:45 Orientation of the screen adjusted)
28:25 West Loop Design Guidelines
29:25 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund
31:10 West Loop library
32:03 Skinner Park fieldhouse
33:20 Overview of local school improvements, e.g., Skinner West Elementary annex, Brown Elementary STEM & magnet programs, Crane High School
38:56 Police Academy plans:  community high school, an extension of Whitney Young HS (with a 30% neighborhood component), park facility, or private sale
42:05 Infrastructure improvements: Fulton Market streetscape, traffic signal at Morgan & Lake, parking restrictions on the west side of Morgan near Lake, permit parking plan
44:05 Blackhawks new ice rink and parking lots
45:20 New L stop at Damon & Lake
46:00 Public safety
46:12 Planned Manufacturing District changes in Fulton Market
46:49 “[Fulton  Market] has become the new downtown (whether you like it or not)…this is where all the jobs are coming.”
47:20 “The new residential that is coming to the area needs to be complemented with jobs.”
49:35 Recent mugging in Fulton Market
51:45 Need for a security plan:  establish business curfews, connect security cameras to the Chicago Police Department, arrange calling trees
57:20 Question & answer period
57:25 What steps are being taken to increase police presence?
1:06:06 Can TIF funds be used for safety improvements?
1:07:12 David Reifman, Commissioner of the Department of Planning & Economic Development remarks
1:10:21 Will the West Loop Design Guidelines take the place of community meetings?
1:12:45 Why are the Design Guidelines so ambiguous?
1:14:15 More West Loop park land and can improvements be made to Skinner Park?
1:19:08 Could there be one alderman or one police district for the West Loop?
1:23:04 Can you clarify how Neighborhood Opportunity Fund dollars are being used?
1:28:30 How is the City assessing the impacts of new development on existing infrastructure?
1:30:48 Why will the new L stop near the United Center be on the Green Line vs. the Pink Line?
1:32:20 What are we doing to protect the seniors in the neighborhood?
1:37:45 Ald. Solis remarks on 25th Ward initiatives
1:41:30 Closing

Date:  Monday, November 20, 2017

By:  NOWL Board members Matt Letourneau

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