Pop-up Kosher Indian Restaurant

Shalom Klein, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park, has announced a special event for this Sunday, July 29. The community’s first annual international pop-up restaurant, this time serving kosher Indian foods, will open for the evening at Ezras Israel on North California Avenue.

The event will include a special cooking demonstration. Food will be prepared by professional chefs.

Tickets can be ordered in advance ($15 for members, $18 for nonmembers) or purchased at the event ($18 for members, $22 for nonmembers. Tickets for children under age ten are $12. The menu can be viewed and tickets pre-ordered online at ezrasisrael.com\event\indian.

The event will take place in the Rosenberg Auditorium at Ezras Israel, 7001 North California Avenue beginning at 5:00 p.m.

For more information, call 773/764-8320.

 

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West Ridge: No Cultural Institutions, Lots of Storage

The lies and deception about “redeveloping” the commercial property at Devon and McCormick continue. Pick up a copy of this week’s News-Star and read all about how the audience “cheered” the idea of yet another storage facility in the neighborhood. In a front-page story with more inaccuracies than truth, Ronald Roenigk breathlessly reported how happy all the neighbors are that the MWRD is giving us a park in exchange for a storage facility almost no one wants..

The lie about the cheering is especially galling. It’s not just that no such cheer occurred. It’s that the opposite happened: There was an overwhelming sense of disappointment in the room, especially because, at the top of the meeting, Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, Academy of Music and Dance, spoke of the need for a neighborhood cultural center and suggested the theater be repurposed to that end, a suggestion that had much support in the crowd and in social media.

But the Cheder Luubavitch Hebrew Day School and the JCC had other plans, they had all the pieces in place before they came to the community, and they hid their true intent throughout the evening. The so-called “community meeting” was merely an attempt to create legitimacy and gloss over the fact that the community had been shut out in favor of a deal that enriched the school and private individuals at the community’s expense.

To call school officials and the JCCWRP duplicitous is an understatement. Despite questions about who owned the property, no one present, including Rabbi Wolf, the school’s executive director, and other men who described themselves as “representatives” of the owner, would say who that owner was. Nor were they forthcoming about the kind of business they were selling to. It did not become clear until late in the meeting that the theater was to become a storage facility, and it was like pulling teeth to get that information from those in the know.

It was not until two days after the meeting, on Thursday, when DNA Chicago published an interview quoting Rabbi Wolf,  that the community learned what was really going to happen. Many people began looking at the school’s stewardship of the property, and found that, since 2005, when the school bought the theater, it was removed from the property tax rolls. Back taxes on the car wash amount to nearly $6,000. The theater was not then the eyesore that it is now, and the school’s claim that it was unable to secure the property is ludicrous.

It’s important to note that the storage facility will pay property taxes but will not create jobs for the community. As with most storage facilities, this one will have one or two employees. It’s a growth industry for owners, but not for communities seeking job opportunities for residents.

Of course, Ald. Silverstein has never shown the slightest interest in developing an economic plan for West Ridge. She won re-election by not engaging with community residents or her challengers. She chose not to address the blocks of store vacancies, the board-ups, and the vacant lots. The sad fact is that when all you can point to as economic development is a couple of discount dress stores and an ice cream shop, you welcome the idea of storage monoliths as progress. No jobs, but hulking new buildings. We aren’t creating viable and sustainable business districts,  we’re filling storefronts and vacant lots with businesses that do nothing to enrich the community.

I attended that Tuesday meeting. There was no “general applause” greeting the announcement that a park would be created, because there was no such announcement. What David St. Pierre, the MWRD Executive Director, agreed to do was tear up the asphalt in the abandoned parking lot to create a green space IF that was what the community wants. Mr. Roenigk states that “some say that a vacant movie theater and car wash at the location are safety hazards as they attract vandals, graffiti taggers, and burglars almost daily.”  This is the story put forth by the JCC and Rabbi Wolf. The fact is that the school failed to properly secure the building during its 10-year ownership. Reports of daily vandalism and burglaries or burglary attempts are not substantiated by “almost daily” police reports.

The story claims that a letter, purportedly signed by “hundreds of rabbis and community leaders,” was sent to MWRD in December 2014 “…demanding an end to policies that have allowed a blighted and abandoned property to degrade the area,…and quashing efforts aimed at promoting commercial redevelop,ment.” That letter has not been made public, so the signature count could not be verified. In a ward of 55,000 residents, with only a couple of civic or activist organizations and a high percentage of non-English-speakers who know nothing about commercial development  in the neighborhood, the notion that “hundreds of rabbis and community leaders” could be found to sign such a letter is preposterous.

Roenigk also states that the parking lot is vaued at $8 million zoned as commercial space, and $2 million zoned as residential. What was actually said was different. The JCCWRP claimed the space had been valued at $8 million; Mr. St. Pierre said he thought that figure was too high, and that $2 million was accurate. The parking lot is currently zoned as residential.

Howard Rieger, president of the JCC, is quoted as wanting to “transform…the blight into a welcoming gateway” to West Ridge. Considering that we now have a 1200-unit storage facility also owned by Banner Storage Group across the street from the east boundary of the ward, and will now have this ugly monstrosity at the west boundary, what kind of welcome are we extending? [Banner’s storage facility at Devon and Ridge is being built next to the McDonald’s on the east side of Ridge, which is now part of the 40th Ward.] Public Storage alone has 17 locations within six miles of the 60645 Zip Code. There is a storage facility at California and Peterson. There are several storage facilities just across McCormick in Lincolnwood. There’s talk of a third facility on Western. Soon there will be more storage units than people in West Ridge.

Roenigk closes his story by presenting a picture of happy residents thrilled by the idea of getting a park in exchange for a hulking storage facility, excitedly talking about plans for another meeting to discuss further plans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most attendees left disappointed. Community input? A sham.  Other possibilities for the site?  Non-existent. A cultural center for the community? You must be joking.

This was a done deal before the community learned anything about it. Vital information was deliberately withheld from residents, although it appeared in an online newspaper AFTER the so-called community meeting. A second meeting will serve no useful purpose except to decide who will take responsibility for maintaining the park. Whether or not that group will also have to shovel the entire bridge and walkway connecting Kedzie to McCormick is also up for debate. It’s doubtful the MWRD will continue to do so.

I suggest we let the JCCWRP be the responsible party. They got what they wanted, now let them take care of it.

Storage Facility or Cultural Center?

I attended last night’s meeting about redevelopment plans for the southeast corner of Devon and McCormick. It’s not yet a done deal but it appears to be close, and the larger community needs to be involved quickly.

The proposal is simple: In exchange for green space where the abandoned parking lot now stands, developers will tear down the theater and the car wash and build a storage facility. The deal is contingent on turning the parking lot into green space. This will provide a park for the community and will also enhance the appearance of the proposed 3-story storage facility.

It was stated that once the parking lot is replaced with turf, the developers would close on the deal within 45 days. It will then be too late for community input. The removal of the asphalt is the key to the project. Because the storage facility is viewed as the only type of business that would not require parking, it’s considered by many to be the only option for redevelopment. Where the facility’s customers would park was not addressed.

The meeting was sponsored by the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park. David St. Pierre, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), provided an overview of the site and said that he is ready to do whatever the community wants. MWRD owns the land on which the parking lot sits. The theater and car wash sites are privately owned.

Mr. St. Pierre said that the parking site is zoned as residential, and that it was abandoned because a re-evaluation of the property some years ago made operating the parking lot “impractical.” The site was evaluated at either about $2 million (his figure) or $8 million (the JCCWRP figure).  Changing the zoning is not considered an option.

Early in the meeting, Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, Academy of Music and Dance on Devon Avenue, spoke briefly but forcefully about the community’s need for a cultural center, and suggested that repurposing the theater would meet that need and fit well with the goals of the Chicago Cultural Plan. The theater has been allowed to deteriorate, so any re-use would depend on how much damage has been done to it through owner neglect.

There was a marked reluctance on the part of those in the know to state exactly what business would be opening if the developers prevail. The fact that it is a storage facility emerged relatively late in the meeting, and many in the audience didn’t like the idea. But many others repeated the mantra that anything would be better than the blight that’s there now.

In my opinion, it’s this kind of short-sighted thinking that’s led to the sorry state of shopping throughout the ward. Filling storefronts rather than building business districts is not the answer. Neither is development without a unifying vision. The site in question has been vacant for 10 years, and a few more months of discussion involving a true cross-section of the community won’t do any harm. There are concerns about crime, the buildings having been vandalized and broken into, but why the owners have not seen fit to maintain and secure the property was not addressed.

I’ve been told that another storage facility is being built on Western and have heard that a third site is also being considered. I don’t think the community is well served by having storage facilities as its only growth industry. We need business that will provide jobs and sales tax revenue. The Devon-McCormick site was referred to as a “gateway” to shopping for both Chicago and Lincolnwood. I would prefer that shoppers entering West Ridge from the north and west encounter a cultural center rather than a storage facility as their first glimpse of our community.

Responsibility for maintaining the green space may fall on the community, unless the Chicago Park District is willing and able to take it over. There is a meeting between JCCWRP leaders and park district officials later this week. Several concerned citizens spoke out against relying on the park district, which has cut back on services in recent years.

If the community were to take responsibility, there would be a nominal fee, perhaps $10 per year, so the community would in effect rent the space and be required to maintain it. One important question that was not addressed is whether the community would then be responsible for shoveling the bridge between Kedzie Avenue and McCormick in the winter. This is now the responsibility of MWRD.

Another meeting will be scheduled to address issues raised last night. Watch this space for more information. In the meantime, you might want to review both the Cultural Plan of Chicago  (here) and the offerings of Music House – Academy of Music and Dance (here).

 

Important Community Meeting – Devon-McCormick Blight

You may know that there’s been an effort to revitalize the McCormick-Lincoln commercial corridor. You may not know that the Village of Lincolnwood and the City of Chicago engaged the Urban Land Institute and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to examine that area, identify its problems, and suggest solutions that would improve retailing in the area. The ULI released its report in September 2013. Read the report here.

The Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park is sponsoring a forum on Tuesday evening, March 10, to discuss the portion of that area controlled by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. That area includes the shuttered theater, the decrepit parking lot, and the closed car wash . Officials of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have been invited. The group’s announcement can be found here.

I hope you’ll make an effort to attend. Citizen involvement is the only thing that will begin to transform this ward.