By Lee Edwards
Several West Side nonprofits have partnered to form the Austin Beautification Initiative, a multiphase project designed to modernize, improve and beautify a portion of Chicago Avenue. The organizations that are part of the collaborative effort include the Good Neighbor Campaign, and the Westside Health Authority Youth's employment division.
According to Yemisi Dinkins, director of finance and economic development for the Westside Health Authority and the director of business and programs for Special Service Area 72 (also known as Austin Village 72 Chicago) — the West Side's only business improvement district. Business improvement districts are areas that levy special taxes on businesses within their confines in order to pay for different beautification initiatives, such as holiday decorations and roadway enhancements.
The ABI is funded through a portion of the return on property taxes received from the special service area. WHA functions as the service provider for this area 72. Additional funds for the ABI will come from revenue streams other than the property tax.
Dinkins said she hopes the ABI will energize local residents to invest more into their surroundings, encourage prospective business owners and entrepreneurs to come to the community, and motivate local residents to support local businesses.
"The hope with the beautification is to create a place that is defined around pride, community, culture, and reflective of a community and culture in this area in particular," said Dinkins. "People who travel all the time will see this as a destination. The people will see AV 72 Chicago as a specific place where they can touch something within themselves that speaks to whatever defines community or home for them and get to experience through someone else's lens."
As part of ABI's first phase, local artists have been asked to participate in the 2017 Call for Artist Campaign, which is an opportunity to display their artwork prominently in the public, often on shuttered buildings.
The theme the artists had to adhere to was "Black Culture and Community." Renovating the shuttered, vacant, and dilapidated properties along the Chicago Avenue corridor is the next phase of the ABI, according to Dinkins.
Amara Enyia, Austin Chamber Executive Director and AV 72 Chicago commissioner, applauded the WHA's leadership in soliciting local artist to participate in the project. She said her hope is that the business owners, artists and community as a whole will all be a part of the process.
"We have so much talent in the community and so one of the goals is to use Chicago Avenue to showcase that local talent that we have and so that meant reaching out to local artists to create the look and feel of what we wanted to see," said Enyia.
"The whole idea is to create an environment that is nice, comfortable, clean to feel like any place where any normal person would want to go and shop and support with their dollars," she said.
Enyia also laid out a comprehensive strategy for enhancing Chicago Avenue — one that starts with increased resources for struggling communities.
"The biggest thing we have to do is continue to push for the equitable allocation of resources to support the economy, especially in more challenged communities like Austin," said Enyia. "The second is to work closely with these businesses to create the feel of a place where people want to be. We have to attract people and that means addressing safety concerns and that also means using whatever resources we have to create an aesthetic that's attractive to people."
Those establishments that are part of phase one for the ABI include: Family Dollar, 5410 W. Chicago Ave.; The Promise Church of Chicago, 4821-23 W. Chicago Ave.; Courtesy II Livery, 4950 W. Chicago Ave.; Chicago Public Library Austin Branch, 5615 W Race.; Healing Temple Chicago, 4941 W. Chicago Ave.; City Sports, 5430 W. Chicago Ave.; and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), 4924 W. Chicago Ave.
To learn more about the Austin Beautification Initiative or AV 72 Chicago visit http://www.av72chicago.com/.
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