September 1997

ÖAnd Thatís My Opinion

by Sandy Goldman

The couple sat there at the end of the bar eyeing me curiously, not an unusual occurrence since I volunteered for this job. They were a good-looking couple. Newly married I observed, from the shining gold bands, left hands, third fingers. He had that Lincoln Park buffed stud puppy look; short stylized hair, shirt from Nautica, designer jeans, sharp crease. I couldn't see his shoes but I would guess that they were some expensive jogging brand. She had that scrubbed North Shore look, long straight streaked blond hair down past her shoulders. She wore a Dana Buchanan blouse, Liz Claiborne skirt with a gold necklace and stud earrings. On her feet were 9 West casual shoes. Pretty nice looking! A complete package.

Finally the guy comes over to me (without his drink, I noticed). "Say," he says, "arenít you the fellow who writes for that paper of the next century? I canít remember the name."

"Yes, Iím Sandy Goldman, editor of RP 2000."

"Weíre new to Rogers Park", he offered, "Iím from Lincoln Park, where we lived for a while; my wife is from Winnetka.

Well, I thought, the old antennae are still pretty good.

This is a great place to live", he said. "Lotsa beachfront and park space being used by people and many activities; kids playing in playground areas, couples walking, camp programs, Park District instructional classes, ball diamonds, basketball hoops, tennis courts, cozy beaches with a great diversity of people; ages, genders and races and sexual preferences. Everybody seems to get along - friendly neighbors and neighborhoods."

Soon his wife came over to join the conversation, also without her drink. I guess in Lincoln Park they talk in bars; there are no bars in Winnetka.

"Mail delivery in Rogers Park " she chimed in, "is simply great compared to Lincoln Park."

Maybe thatís why they talk in bars in Lincoln Park. I thought to myself, poor mail delivery.

" And thereís so much to do," she continued, "Loyola University has live theater and an exciting basketball team. The are so many restaurants and coffee shops and hideaway bars. In fact, this very place - (the Pinewood at 2310 West Touhy) was selected as one of the best-kept secrets on the North Side by Chicago Magazine - what a great outdoor beer garden! And the Heartland Cafe is known citywide and thereís that unique little rendezvous on Chase called The Lighthouse. And thereís Leonaís Daughters on Sheridan Road - and even though itís trying to reinvent itself, My Place For? now known as the Gateway Bar and Grill 7545 N Clark Street, still has good food and really fine live music - jazz, blues and gospel."

 "And," he interjected, "Sheridan Road is full of the sights and sounds of the city. It is especially appealing at the berm at the Devon - Sheridan intersection. It is a front door any neighborhood or town or big city would be proud to call their own."

"Donít forget Clark Street," said the man behind the bar whose bartender ears had pick up the conversation. "Donít forget the newly paved wider streets - soon thereíll be flower pots and street dividers. And look at what theyíve done at the intersection of Clark, Ashland and Devon. I come to work that way and it sure is easier now. I donít think I like the traffic circles though. Most people donít know how to use them and turn left from the wrong side - gonna be some crashes."

"Yes, there is much positive about Rogers Park. Where do you live?" I asked the young couple.

"We bought one of those condos on Eastlake Terrace - great place, large comfortable rooms, new appliances and carpet; completely refurbished throughout including common areas. Weíre both attorneys working downtown and itís good to be close to transportation: and what a spectacular view to the east, but sadly not so good to the west."

"Soon that will change," I offered, "with the completion of Gateway Plaza and the Hispanic Housing Project and the redevelopment of the former Howard Theater into housing".

"Right," he said, " we went to those meetings at the Vineyard Church and when someone asked the man from Hispanic Housing about retail occupancy, we didnít get much further than a Spin-Cycle type Laundromat. I donít see how developing more housing using 15 year tax credits which could turn into 30 year tax credits and are geared for low income is going to revitalize the street. And furthermore, I donít see how an umpteen-sized screen movie theater is going to anchor a successful shopping center even with a huge Dominicks. I read a paper by Wim Wiewel, Dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at U. of I., that theaters will not automatically generate enough traffic by themselves to support other businesses. However, he states, if there are other things that are positive, a multiplex movie house can help put it over the top.

"The problem," I said to my new friends, is that you are listening to academicians and not developers, leasing agents, construction company executives, financiers, Community Development Corporations and politicians.

"Who," he interrupted, " line up in a feeding frenzy at the trough of Tax Increment Financing."

"TIFs," I countered, "are only part of the financing. How else could such a proposal be developed?"

"What about the new grocery store at 7343 North Clark Street and the new mall at Clark and Lunt? No gimmicks formerly known as public meetings, no TIFs, no tax credits, no city money, no state money. Just successful entrepreneurs and merchants taking a risk, fulfilling a need. What happens when the schools and infrastructure need money and the tax increments are frozen?"

"Thatís the short view," I said. "The long view is that schools and others will come out ahead because TIFs have a 23 year life and the increased taxes available in 23 years would not have occurred without the TIF development. Only time will tell if Gateway will fulfill its promise."

"Whatís a CDC?" asked the former Winnetkan.

"A CDC is a non-profit community development corporation whose purpose is to assist, aid, abet, solicit and sometimes partner economic development. One of these is DevCorp North which is the successor to the Howard Paulina Development Corporation which was organized as the political/economic arm of a former alderman."

"Well," she says, "talk about Balkanization. Rogers Park has more community organizations; beat teams, neighborhood associations and block clubs than there were agencies in the first hundred days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, back before World War II."

"They are all," I insisted, "committed to the improvement and well being of the community Ė as they see it."

"And," she continued, "the political alliances are even more intriguing, maybe even Machiavellian. I donít even know who is the Alderman of Rogers Park."

"There are three;" said I, "Berny Stone in the 50th Ward, Joe Moore in the 49th and Pat OíConner in the 40th. Each has a piece of Rogers Park. It gets pretty complicated sometimes and it changes at each census period.

"Who would be the alderman at 1404 West Pratt near Glenwood where the 7-11 wants to get a liquor license?"

"That would be Alderman Moore. Why do you ask?"

"Our friends live near there and they are very upset. First, the owner got an O.K. from one community group and then a turndown at another community meeting. Then the Alderman, in a ĎSolomon-like decisioní says for the owner to petition the voters living within 500í of the establishment.

"I think you are much too hard," I replied, "Iím sure heís just trying to help a businessman and a voter. After all, it is his duty and responsibility to all citizens of Rogers Park, if not the whole City. Just look at his support of the Living Wage Ordinance, raising the minimum wage in Chicago to $7.60 an hour which will be about $1.50 an hour over the federal minimum wage."

"Good for votes and campaign contributions," said the cynic on the next bar stool. Thatís the nice thing about friendly bars, everybody joins in the conversation without introduction or invitation.

"Tell them," he continued, " about the debate over the issue of a cul-de-sac at Jarvis, near the Rogers Park Fruit Market or the no-peddling controversy in all three wards as well as the rest of the city."

"O.K.," I said, looking at the young couple. "But itís your turn to buy. This may take a while."

"And then," they asked, "can we talk about schools and shopping and street safety and stop signs and illegal parking?"

"Another time," I responded, "Iím here every Friday."

...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

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