February 22, 2010

Unveiling The Wisdom Bridge Theatre Plan

Frankly, the building proposed to replace the Wisdom Bridge Theatre and adjoining vacant, worn down building next door did not appear to be what the meeting was about. It was political drama – again. A veil to hide the real intent(s). Mr. Aronson stood next to an architectural rendering of his vision for a building and tried to persuade people who came out on a miserable night of his intentions. The rendering was one of the ugliest attempts I’ve seen in a long time, and many others voiced that opinion. While I arrived late I heard all that needed to be heard. This proposed building will have affordable living units in the upper levels and the first floor will be a ‘theatre and restaurant’. But (there’s always a but isn’t there?) the real intent came as Aronson explained making office space available to area NFP’s and tried to make the comparison of the ‘wonderful’ new home on Morse now occupied by Rogers Park Business Alliance fka DevCorp.

Two vacancies side by side Desolate Howard Wisdom Bridge Theatre

Then he continued by tossing out one more hint. Boys and Girls Club. He mentioned a fellow RPBA board member who does NOT live North of Howard but sits on the Cotter Boys and Girls Club and how serving the underprivileged children in the area is necessary....and how the Cotter BGC didn't get to move into the Willye B White public, taxpayer funded park facility in a secretive takeover attempt after 12-13 long years of broken promises. My god how this gang is still burning from real community input over that attempted theft!

Mr. Aronson can make his donation to the underprivileged children in this area, check payable to the Willye White Park Advisory Council. He can join our council and see that we are providing 80% discounts so the underprivileged children can attend after school winter sessions with plans for spring and summer camp too! He can join us in fundraising for these underprivileged children any time he wants to. The alderman has all of my contact information, email, work, home and cell phone numbers if Joe cares to share and build that bridge with us he wrote me about last June.

But to try and persuade people that the proposed building with living units upstairs, a theatre and fine restaurant on the ground level that will pull people from the suburbs to desolate Howard Street to enjoy an evening out is too much – when disclosing the concept of also housing the Cotter Boys and Girls Club in the same building. Sounds too busy to me. He hasn’t any strong theatre leads yet – and I sincerely doubt that there will be in the setting he described. What this sounded like was a new building for certain area NFP's and a B&GC and with affordable living units – nothing more. Otherwise, we would have heard about all the theatre/restaurant contacts and leads and less about the area NFP’s and the fellow board member who obviously will not stop until he and the forces get a new building for the west side’s Cotter Club. That’s not developing a dead street at all. As for mentioning the high number of at risk or low income population here, well, who put them here? Who went along with the plan that this 2x6 block area should be a haven for low income and social service agencies anyway? The community or 30+ years of ‘progressive liberal’ non-visionary planning?

Naturally, a new building with lights and a theatre and restaurant would fit the concept of creating life on Howard Street. Mr. Aronson stated there had been issues with squatters; he mentioned the safety/crime concerns on Howard. In spite of his statement that he lives in Rogers Park – he does not live North of Howard and the crime issues are in several buildings here! Beat 2422 has the highest crime rate in the 24th District. It’s old news. Even the Pivens exited the theatre plan years ago. There are several Wisdom Bridge alumni – William Petersen of CSI fame for one and how many other Chicago born actors have been contacted to start up a theatre? Why? Because of the demographics and the crime for starters – as well as a building that was ignored for 26 years.

Wisdom Bridge facing East at alley Snipped FenceAlley WITH speed bump facing north

Possible contamination abatement was mentioned too. Of course, just across the alley from the Wisdom Bridge Theatre is the empty hole that was the long vacant Lerner property. For years we heard the land was contaminated from the printing chemicals and also from a dry cleaners that had been on the land. Oddly, once upon a time there was a dry cleaners on the corner of Ashland and Rogers too. When Runge Auto Shop was dislocated thanks to the manipulations that created the half empty Gateway Mall, the Runge’s wanted to relocate to that corner. They heard the contamination saga and were allocated a space around the corner from the property they wanted. Somehow that contamination was abated because Howard Area now has a day care center on that very corner.

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Of course, I’m just a citizen journalist who’s been a quick study in the machinations of getting things done, who gets what, when and how. There was a former electrician attending who claims to be a journalist who will have his own spin on tonight – but he’s in with the crowd and also does NOT live North of Howard. But as I always say, Anything Goes North of Howard. I certainly hope I’m wrong on this one!


The North Coast said...

Just what we need.. more taxpayer-funded "affordable" apartments. This project sounds like just another tax-funded gimme for a crony developer .

Will the units cost as much to build as the Wilson Yards "affordable" housing, which cost $447,000 a unit to build?

How many poor and near-poor property owners have to give up their little $40K shanties they worked low-wage jobs to buy, to provide a relative handful of "affordable" apartments and quarters for a private not-for-profit? For every poor person who benefits from this crap, 100 people who are even poorer and some how managing to pay their way and stay off the aid rolls, suffer.

And yes, NOH certainly is overburdened with subsidized housing and non-profits as it is, as are the taxpayers.

Toni said...

BUT what about ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT on HOWARD Street? What can shoppers purchase in most of the area NFP's?

What can shoppers purchase in a BGC?

Aronson mentioned how Rogers Park is losing money because shoppers take their money elsewhere. Well, HELLO! Look at Andersonville - there aren't any 7 story modernistic glass buildings...there IS however a myriad of DIVERSE shops on shopper friendly streets. There are many meanings that one may apply to the word DIVERSE. Wise up Rogers Parkers....this is another done deal to make the IN CROWD happy and none of them live in this immediate area. Many of them aided and abetted in creating it, enabling it but they just can't be one of their favorite buzzwords - PROGRESSIVE.

fit4life said...

In the past couple days I've had a little time to look over the ”Commercial Corridor Plan for Howard Street & Morse Avenue”(CCP) and was both impressed and very disappointed. Impressed, because of the extent of work done by DevCorp to bring together so many resources to address this problem and the level of detail in the recommendations. I was very disappointed because it lumped both Morse and Howard together-two commercial districts so different from one another that they could be in different states, much less a different part of the neighborhood. The great work on Glenwood has certainly seemed to have benefited from this study and I can certainly attest to the anguish we've gone through over the years over Morse Avenue.

Yet as bad as it's been on Morse, it's not even close to the problems on Howard and NOH. Luckily we didn't get saddled with the extreme concentration of low-income/subsidized/affordable or whatever the new euphemism is for what amounts to below market priced housing, and the subsequent explosion of NFP's that have by necessity sprung up in the area on and north of Howard. A rule of thumb in development says that retailing follows residential and if that were only partially true, then Howard Street doesn't have a chance without the construction of numerous market rate housing projects along Howard itself and possibly on anterior streets in order to balance out the concentration of below market housing already in place.

I bring this up because Rich Aronson’ proposal for his project on Howard appears to include the idea of some affordable housing units and offices for NFP's. Design issue aside - which doesn't seem to go along with the notion in the CCP for Howard that "historic preservation... should also be emphasized" - his project would only add, however little, to the concentration of below market units and NFP's, when what is needed now is a sole focus on how to bring in market rate housing, and retail to match. This would be a huge opportunity lost. The vacant store fronts and properties east of the tracks present an opportunity to create an historic district that emphasizes Howard Street's remarkable past and secures Howard Street's future. While the economy is still coming out of its malaise, now would seem to be the time to create a "Handbook for Developers", as mentioned in the CCP, but specifically for the area east of the "L".

Finally, I just want to clarify my thoughts on the expanse of affordable housing units in the area NOH. The residents who occupy these units will only be put at further risk, along with others who live in the area, by continuing to add to this concentration. It should never have been done in the first place, particularly at a time when we already realized that concentration of what was then known as public housing was a very bad idea.

That’s water under the bridge now, so we have to focus on how to create a balance that will dilute the effect of so much concentration. That opportunity exists on Howard, east of the tracks. Mid-rise, mixed-use buildings with market-rate only housing can be built to create a more stable environment whereby everyone will benefit. It will also set the stage for retail to follow residential. Aronson’s project falls far short of this and certainly has the appearance of a developer trying to survive in a terrible economy. It also falls far short in that it's very important that the first new commercial project for the street be a model for whatever else is to follow. Aronson's project hardly fits that bill.

What's the rush? We’ve waited for so long now that a few more years of waiting out this economic tsunami isn’t going to make much of a difference and would allow for a little time to come up with a plan focused solely on the area east of the “L”. To rush now and take any project that is thrown out there, just to “fill in a hole”, would be a huge mistake.

Don Gordon

Fargo said...

I wonder how many more years it will be until there is a wider variety of shopping on Howard Street for middle class people. This sounds like more of the same in a modern package. Sheesh!

Toni said...

Fargo, I'm not tracking....what can a shopper purchase in most NFP's? Most of our NFP's are service operations not stores.

Andersonville has 'old' buildings that have been nicely rehabbed into inviting shops. Yet Mr. Aronson et al, claim that businesses don't want the 'old' buildings on Howard. Odd, Andersonville has grown into its old storefronts quite nicely. I bet they had a PLAN. And the demographics changed and contributed to that PLAN. If anyone mentions that kind of change NOH the labels start flying from the hearts who put everything negative here to keep it out of their back yards.

Toni said...

Also, Mr. Aronson mentioned the condition of having X pre-sales of the 'affordable condos' when referring to the lender. If these are condo's what guarantee is there to keep investors from flipping them and/or renting them as they did on Maxwell Street? Do we not have enough transients here already?

NOH needs stability.

There are too many gray areas in this presentation...way too many.

mcl said...

IMO, the community needs to be provided specific information on the details of this proposal. We also need certifiable information regarding the 'new' Aronson 'development group', Noble Development. Who are their principals, what is their financial situation and what is their track record regarding any previous development projects? Due to the current economic situation and based on the number vacant and foreclosed condo projects in-addition to the number of failed 'projects', resulting in empty lots and holes in the ground, in Rogers Park, this kind of information and transparency should be required and forthcoming for public/community scrutiny before this proposal moves forward. How about it, Mr Aronson and Alderman Moore? ?? The community wants and deserves details not 'broad brush strokes' and more empty promises and 'assurances'!!

Fargo said...

what can a shopper purchase in most NFP's? Most of our NFP's are service operations not stores.

Other than something like a thrift shop (wait, that's gone), a shopper can't buy much of anything. So this looks like more of the same - a whole lotta nothing for middle class people who would like to support new business on Howard St.

I'd love to see more businesses on the level of what Paulette offers at Jamaica Jerk. It could make Howard St. a destination again, something it hasn't been in a long time.