At another public meeting related to the redevelopment of the Mars Candy Factory, 2019 N. Oak Park Ave. in Galewood, on Sept. 13, attendees leaned on Chicago’s history to imagine a plan for redeveloping the factory once the company closes it in 2024.
Mars officials announced in January that they’ll close the Galewood site and move elsewhere. They said they’ll donate the facility to the community for stakeholders to use how they see fit. Community members have provided their input on the site’s potential redevelopment at multiple public meetings. There are three more meetings scheduled for Sept. 24, Oct. 8 and Oct. 19.
In groups, residents shared global historical events that affected Chicago and the community areas of Montclare, Galewood, Austin and Belmont Cragin that surround the factory. Those events included the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War and the Great Migration, among others.
“It seems like we were never in front of the change,” said Darnell Shields, executive director of Austin Coming Together. Austin resident Sharon Hartshorn added that “we have a tendency to be reactive as opposed to [proactive].”
Hartshorn said the West Side “never really came back from the disinvestment” that followed the riots that happened in the days after King’s assassination in 1968. “Things were left to decay in some areas.”
When King focused on economic empowerment and segregation in northern cities, he was a frequent guest at Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale, according to a 2016 Chicago Tribune article.
At the time of King’s assassination on April 5, 1968, riots resulting in major fires and looting were reported on the West Side, including Austin, according to the Illinois Fire Service Institute library. Austin saw more than 200 buildings set ablaze and millions of dollars in damage, according to a 2013 Austin Weekly article, and never fully recovered.
Shields said the Vietnam War also affected the West Side, particularly Black veterans, adding that “a lot of the things that transpired kind of unraveled or trickled down from that.”
For many attendees at the meeting, the central question was how the factory’s redevelopment might proactively confront similar challenges, upheavals, and social changes in the future.
One attendee said that community members should consider the historic 1909 Plan for Chicago co-authored by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett.
The attendee said the plan integrated a series of projects including new streets, parks, railroad, and civic buildings and that it’s “indicative of what we kind of expect in Chicago and in our neighborhoods.”
Considering the challenge of climate change, attendees suggested that developers keep sustainability in mind when planning for what comes after the factory.
“We’re at the point where we get a chance to either struggle, recover or progress,” an attendee said. “I think, as a community, we need to want to progress and embrace the diversity [and] equity that we have in this community.”