The new police and fire training facility on the West Side is due to open completely in 2023. | File

In February, West Siders will elect a mayor, alderpersons and, for the first time, members of the new local police advisory councils.

In the area of economic development, many major projects are still years from completion, except the controversial fire and police training academy.

Other unfinished business includes the search for commissioners to run Special Service Area 77, a taxing district covering West Garfield Park’s Madison/Pulaski corridor. In addition, two Starbucks are under construction on opposite sides of Austin: one in Galewood and one in North Austin’s Washington Square mall.

Politics

This year, voters will decide whether to re-elect Mayor Lori Lightfoot or elect one of her nine challengers. Austin resident and current Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson (1st) is the only West Sider among the challengers.

All West Side incumbent aldermen except Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) are facing challenges in 2023. In North Lawndale’s 24th Ward, Ald. Monique Scott, appointed in 2022 to replace her brother, Michael Scott, is facing six challengers. Chicago City Council Black Caucus head Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) is facing three challengers, while Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) each face three.

The New Year will also mark the formation of the elected Police District Councils, which will act as intermediaries between the community and the police districts, and choose members of the citywide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. That commission will take over responsibility from the police board for developing a shortlist of police superintendent candidates and nominating heads of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. Each council will have three candidates, and the councils for all four districts serving the West Side have at least five candidates running.

In all elections, if no candidates get more than 50% of the vote on Feb. 28, the top two vote-getters will face off in an April 4 runoff. While all West Side aldermen coasted to victory during the 2019 election, the last few mayoral contests went to a runoff.

Economic development

Several major community projects, including the long-awaited redevelopment of the former North/Harlem Sears location, won’t be complete until 2024 at the earliest.

The redevelopment of the former U.S Bank building at 6700 W. North Ave. has been proceeding throughout 2022, and the owners expect to open the residential portion sometime in 2023.

The prospect of moving the Galewood library branch to a portion of the first-floor commercial space remains uncertain. Taliaferro, whose ward includes the site, said in a recent interview that the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library system and the developers were in the process of negotiating the terms of the deal that would allow the city to buy that portion of the building in a condo-like arrangement. Still, he had no idea how far along the negotiations were, and he couldn’t give an exact date for when the negotiations could be completed.

More controversially, the Chicago Joint Public Safety Training Center, the new training center for police officers and firefighters being built in West Humboldt Park, 4433 W Chicago Ave., is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

Dubbed the “Cop Academy” by residents who argued that the money that the city is sinking into the campus would be better spent on affordable housing, social services in education, the facility will include a “mini-city” scenario village, and firefighter prop and training areas. The classrooms and administrative offices are already mostly completed.

Garfield Park Conservatory’s 6,000-square-foot Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, which closed for renovations in late 2021, is expected to reopen in 2023. The garden will be more accessible to people with strollers and mobility devices. It will include a new slide and custom-designed climber, toddler areas, a nature art gallery and a family bathroom.

Austin’s Chicago Jesuit Academy. 5058 W. Jackson Blvd., is expected to open the girls’ school on the campus it shares with Christ the King Jesuit College Prep High School. The new school will complement the boys’ school that opened in 2007. The school is being built on the north side of the property, where the parking lot used to be, in a similar architectural style as the boys’ academy.

On a smaller scale, the Foundation for Homan Square, the nonprofit lender IFF, and Bowa Construction are expected to finish four two-story buildings with 21 units accessible to people with disabilities in North Lawndale’s Homan Square section at 3300-3308 W. Flournoy St., 3654 W. Polk St. and 3439 W. Flournoy St.

Business

On the West Side, any grocery store opening is news and Austin may get not one but two grocery stores.

The brick-and-mortar location of Austin Harvest, a produce market operated by students at the By The Hand Club for Kids, is expected to open in the spring of 2023 on the site of a former liquor store at 423 N. Laramie Ave. The store gets discounted produce from Jewel-Osco and By the Hand Club will use its own funds to keep the food affordable.

Forty Acres Fresh Market could open its permanent location at 5713 W. Chicago Ave. in 2023. Owner Liz Abunaw took pains to emphasize that, given all the delays she already encountered, she didn’t want to even speculate about the timeline. But she said that once she had all the necessary permits, she expected it would take six months to rehab the former Salvation Army store.

The Chicago Tool Library, a nonprofit where customers can borrow a wide variety of tools, will be moving from its current location in the South Side’s Bridgeport community to a warehouse in East Garfield Park at 4015 W. Carroll Ave.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...