When Rev. Michael Eaddy, pastor of Peoples Church of the Harvest, 3570 West Fifth Ave., was growing up in East Garfield Park in the 1960s, the neighborhood’s Madison Street strip was a destination that drew in shoppers for miles around. At a press conference Tuesday at Edna’s, 3175 W. Madison, neighborhood groups unveiled a new action plan for Madison Street between Damen and Central Park Avenue that Eaddy and other West Side residents hope will bring the street back to its former glory. While residential development in East Garfield Park has boomed in recent years, commercial development has lagged behind, a dynamic that has not gone unnoticed by Eaddy and other neighborhood leaders.
“When you didn’t go downtown, you could always go out west,” Eaddy recalled of his youthful days in the neighborhood. “We want to recapture that.”
Ernestine King, executive director of the Greater Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce, said the plan, crafted after a year of meetings with neighborhood groups coordinated by the University of Illinois-Chicago City Design Center, is dedicated to turning Madison Street into an attraction that can lure both residents and visitors to the area’s two main attractions, the United Center and the Garfield Park Conservatory.
“We’re bringing back Madison as Main Street,” King said of the effort, which has enlisted groups ranging from the Madison and Western Chamber of Commerce to several local churches to help with planning.
The plan unveiled Tuesday calls for the creation this year of a Madison Street Development Committee, which would work to recruit businesses and public investment to the area. For 2007, King said the group hopes to hire a staffer while working on recruiting businesses.
Abe Lentner, Coordinator for Technical Assistance Programs at UIC’s City Design Center, said the neighborhood still has more than 100 vacant lots and a 30 percent vacancy rate in commercial structures.
“That sends a message that East Garfield Park is closed for business,” Lentner said.
To combat that image, Lentner called for the recruitment of “quality retail” development, and said the new group should also push to find opportunities for neighborhood entrepreneurs to start new businesses or expand existing ones.
Mike Tomas, director of the East Garfield Park New Communities program and employee of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, said the group would promote stricter design standards for potential new buildings in more heavily trafficked areas like Madison and Western, but would consider more “flexible” standards further west, where less development is in place. According to the report, that could translate into more New Urbanist principles farther east, with the possible inclusion of strip malls and parking lots in front of developments in less built-up areas.
And Tomas, citing the creation of 1,500 new residential units in recent years, said he believes the neighborhood has the potential to attract more small businesses-cafes and grocery stores, for instance-and said the new group is in talks with a hardware retailer to locate in the neighborhood.
“Two million dollars leaves the neighborhood every year for hardware,” Tomas said, adding, “40,000 square feet of family apparel could be sustained in the…area.”
Tomas said that the Department of Planning and Development, along with the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), have set aside funding for the new Madison Street group this year to pay for brochures, trips to retailers’ conventions, the hiring of a UIC graduate student to help design a website and other recruitment tools to bring more businesses to Madison Street. In the long run, Tomas said he would like to see streetscaping improvements on Madison Street, but said the nature of those improvements has not yet been determined.