Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) held her first of three “listening tour” meetings earlier this month, June 4, where she revealed a project proposed to her that would bring outdoor concerts and a lighthouse tower to the ward.
The meeting at Near North Health Center, 1520 N. Kostner, drew about 20 people, including former 37th aldermanic candidate Maretta Brown-Miller.
The alderman scheduled the meeting and two others held throughout the month to hear from residents and gather a preliminary, focused plan for the ward, said Bill Doerrer, Mitts’ spokesman. Mitts will still have monthly community meetings the fourth Thursday of every month.
Public input was split into different topics, including education and public safety.
When economic development was discussed, Mitts said she was approached by developers — who she later declined to name — to build on part of a 30-acre vacant site near Chicago and Kostner.
She said the developers propose constructing a multi-use tower shaped like a lighthouse that would have restaurants at the top and a rock climbing wall on the side. An open field on the site would be used for outdoor concerts and movie nights, Mitts said.
But the area was designated a Planned Manufacturing District (PMD) in 2004, restricting it to industrial use only. For the project to go through, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals would have to lift the manufacturing designation.
Mitts urged residents not to get their hopes up because she didn’t know how possible it would be to get the area rezoned.
She told AustinTalks after the June 4 meeting that she planned to meet June 10 with zoning officials and the developers — who first approached her in May — to discuss the possibility of getting the PMD designation lifted.
“It’s something everybody could enjoy,” Mitts said.
If the project does move forward, Mitts said she will present it to the community to get input.
The rest of the meeting featured a few key audience members, including a recent college graduate student who took the lead in expressing how the ward could be improved.
Some brainstormed other ideas for economic development, including a recreational area for children and a movie theater.
Brown-Miller complained that “we have to go to somebody else’s community” to see a movie. (The nearest theatre is AMC Showplace Galewood at 5530 W. Homer St.)
When Mitts suggested the ward needs a new sit-down restaurant, audience members nodded and gave their verbal approval. A Cracker Barrel and Chipotle were among the suggestions from the audience.
The meeting also featured a presentation from the Chicago Department of Transportation about a project to make walkways safer for students and other pedestrians.
According to a flyer handed out at Thursday’s meeting, a federal grant will allow CDOT to build five pedestrian refuge islands in the 37th Ward at intersections deemed unsafe: Chicago and Lamon, Chicago and Latrobe, Chicago and Lockwood, Chicago and Lotus, and Chicago and Pine.
Residents spent more time discussing public safety than any other topic. Some people said they wanted to see more cops on the street who could relate to those living in the neighborhood.
“The ones making the arrests? We don’t know them and they don’t know us,” said Phalese Binion, director of the Westside Ministers Coalition.
Damien Gosberry, a recent college graduate who attended MacNair Elementary as a child, said the community needs more officers who are “familiar with our issues.”
He said younger residents must be educated on their rights and what to do when stopped by a police officer.
Mitts said there needs to be more communication before the police and residents, and she recommended each block have a resident attend CAPS meetings.
When one woman said she wanted more cops on bicycles patrolling the neighborhood, Mitts said, “If we don’t ask for these things, they don’t know we want them.”
The woman replied, “We did ask for these things,” referring to a CAPS meeting.
The next listening tour meeting will be held June 18, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at By The Hand Club, 415 N. Laramie Ave.