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Walmart in polls and at the polls

[UPDATED]  Again with the polls — Walmart has a full-page ad in the paper today touting three polls showing over 70 percent support for a Walmart on the South Side.

Of course, the next question is not asked.  It’s this:  do you think Walmart and other big businesses should pay a living wage?

In fact, as Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative reminds us, when voters were asked the followup question, they responded overwhelmingly in the affirmative.

In voter referendums in 300 precincts during the campaign for a living wage ordinance in 2005 and 2006, voters supported a requirement that big box stores pay a living wage by margins in the 80 percent range.  Patel points out that support for the ordinance was strongest in African American precincts.

In 2007, when the living wage ordinance was a major issue in a number of aldermanic elections, supporters of the ordinance carried the day by a wide margin.

Those are the polls the politicians care about – and that’s why, for all the outrage of editorial boards and columnists demanding full deference to the world’s largest corporation, there’s a limit on what Walmart can do in Chicago.

Even Mayor Daley recognizes it, so far at least, declining to approve the 83rd Street Walmart without Council backing.  And whenever an amended redevelopment agreement for the site is brought forward, the Good Jobs Chicago coalition intends to ensure that alderman get to vote on adding a community benefits agreement guaranteeing decent wages and benefits, and local hiring and investment.  And all these people can count votes.

Good Jobs Chicago has been canvassing the 9th and 21st wards and reports residents are responsive to their message.

“People hear only one side of the story – that a Walmart job is better than no job,” said Latrell Smith, an organizer with Action Now.  “When they hear the other side, it hits them that $8 an hour won’t begin to cover basic necessities or get people off public assistance.  Almost everyone we talked to agreed it’s a good thing to set reasonable standards for the ‘big boxes.'”

Patel applauded Ald. Edward Burke’s proposal to require a living wage of companies receiving city subsidies (withdrawn Monday after business leaders objected), noting similar measures have been passed in Denver and Pittsburgh. “It’s a great way to make sure development is creating good jobs,” she said.

Judging from polls, the ones where voters vote, Chicagoans would tend to agree.

Preckwinkle and Peotone

Talking about economic development and “regional planning” – and no doubt eyeing a possible endorsement by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. – Ald. Toni Preckwinkle has come out in favor of Jackson’s scheme for a new airport in Peotone.

Preckwinkle’s (rather far afield) support comes on top of Governor Quinn’s backing, which includes $100 million for property acquisition  in the state’s crisis budget and a promise to accelerate the process in his State of the State speech today.  Quinn actually got an endorsement from the Congressman in exchange.

Still, “there are so many obstacles,” said Peotone resident George Ochsenfeld of Shut This Airport Nightmare Down.  “The state is really broke – I mean really.  The airport industry is in a shambles.  And Jackson is damaged goods.”  The FAA has yet to approve a new airport, and there are still two competing plans.

Angry that his state representative wouldn’t speak out against the $100 million, Ochsenfeld is now a candidate for state rep in the Green Party primary in the 79th District.  He thinks he stands a chance come November – and he thinks his colleague in STAND, Judy Ogalla, has an even better chance to win the 40th District state senate seat; she’s running in next month’s GOP primary.

“Judy’s frustration with the state’s decades-long effort to build an unnecessary airport in the farm fields of eastern Will County was the catalyst for her desire to run for office,” says her website. “She has already stood up for her friends and neighbors in the path of the state’s favored project.”

Said Ochsenfeld:  “We’re closing down health services and social services — and we have $100 million to force people off their property?”

Airport opponents have held township offices in the area for several years now.  (For more see 6-12-08 Newstips.)

Daley gets Gropius plea

Dave Roeder and Jim Peters have both appealed to Mayor Daley in print to save the Gropius buildings on the campus of Michael Reese Hospital, and yesterday preservations took their plea directly to Daley’s office.

“We call upon Mayor Daley, once known as a champion for architectural landmarks, to step up to the plate and stop the demolition of Walter Gropius’s work immediately,” said Grahm Balkany of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition.

Four of eight buildings designed by the pioneer modernist architect have been demolished so far, with three more scheduled to come down.  That makes Chicago “the first city government in the world to willfully tear down a Gropius project,” according to the coalition.

The coalition warns that the city is on the verge of “a disaster on the order of the 1972 demolition of the Chicago Stock Exchange,” a Louis Sullivan masterpiece “whose absence is still reviled as a cultural scar across the U.S.”

And by clearing the site in the midst of a housing bust – and foregoing preservation tax credits which could provide developers with many millions of dollars – the city risks  creating a new Block 37, where a landmark building was demolished to clear land that remained vacant for 20 years.

The architecture at Michael Reese Hospital, located near 31st and King Drive, is readily convertible for new housing or for offices, shopping, schools, or other uses, Balkany said.

Gropius – Chicago, New York

The destruction of Gropius buildings at Michael Reese Hospital, which Blair Kamin calls “ongoing cultural vandalism,” continues with a third demolition, the Serum Center.

“It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Serum Center,” according to the Gropius in Chicago Coalition.  “It represents one of the fullest and most extraordinary of Gropius’s contributions to Chicago.”

The coalition will rally in protest on Tuesday, November 24 at noon at Daley Plaza.

Meanwhile, Gropius and his Bauhaus colleagues are featured in an exhibition that recently opened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

City cuts small business support

With neighborhood economic development groups objecting to a major reduction in city funding at a time of growing job loss, 22 aldermen have submitted a resolution ordering the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Management to restore the funds in the city’s proposed 2010 budget.

The resolution is on the agenda for the City Council’s budget committee hearing on Monday. If approved, it could be considered at Wednesday’s council meeting.
The proposed budget for the Department of Community Development cuts spending by 21.5 percent for delegate agencies – about 120 neighborhood chambers of commerce and other groups that support commercial and industrial districts.

It’s a huge cut for a small budget item – a $1.5 million reduction from last year’s appropriation of $6.4 million. It’s a far greater reduction than other programs in the department. And it comes on top of cuts ranging from 3 to 7.5 percent each of the past six years, while the city’s budget has steadily grown.

With pressure on neighborhood businesses ratcheting up, other funding sources for the groups – especially local banks and real estate agencies, who know the value of a thriving business district — have been squeezed particularly hard, said Kimberly Bares of the Rogers Park Business Alliance.

Because the city provides only partial funding, its spending on delegate agencies seeds a tremendous amount of economic development effort, she said.

“We’re providing tremendous value to the city’s efforts, for minimal funding,” said Roger Romanelli of the Randolph Fulton Market Assocation. “We’re out on the streets every day, working directly with hundreds of businesses” in ways that would be impossible for the city.

“Most delegate agencies have staffs of one or two people doing the work of ten,” said Luis Alva of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. LVCC’s activities include workshops for businesses on a range of topics as well as a highly successful 13-session workshop on starting a business. “These are people who go on to open businesses, invest in the community, and hire people,” he said.

The group also features festivals and sales to attract shoppers from outside the community to the 26th Street retail district, which is second only the Michigan Avenue in business activity and sales tax revenue. Local dress shops are clamoring for a repeat of LVCC’s recent bridal expo, Alva said.

Delegate agencies include groups funded under the Local Industrial Retention Initiative, which are also facing 21.5 percent cuts, said Mike Holzer of the Local Economic and Employment Development Council. LIRI is the city’s primary delivery vehicle for direct economic development services to small manufacturers, and LEED Council manages the North River Industrial Corridor.

LEED Council has leveraged over half a billion dollars in private investment for the corridor, which includes four planned manufacturing districts, Holzer said. The Goose Island district, which was a marginal industrial area in the early 1990s, when 25 firms employed fewer than 1,000 workers, is thriving today, with over 65 firms and a workforce of 5,000, he said.

Those are jobs that allow workers to buy homes and send children to college. And they’ve been attracted during a period when the U.S. has lost millions of manufacturing jobs; Chicago lost over 100,000 manufacturing jobs from 1995 to 2005, according to the Brookings Institute.

Small and mid-size firms generate the vast majority of new jobs, said Ellen Shepard of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, and since local businesses use local suppliers and support charities in their own communities, they generate far more local economic activity.

“With national and international markets faltering, and many residents being laid off…we are more reliant than ever on our neighborhood businesses,” she said. The city should be “significantly” boosting funding for neighborhood development groups, not cutting it, she said.

Bares said the cuts are likely to force some neighborhood groups to close down – and adds that there are local business support groups on the South and West Sides that have yet to be included in the city’s delegate agency program.

With major corporations getting city subsidies of tens of millions of dollars, while over a hundred local groups – which serve thousands of small businesses — must share a $5 million program, it’s clear the city could focus more on locally-owned businesses. The other program supporting neighborhood businesses, the Small Business Improvement Funds provided by selected TIF districts, is being cut this year from $3 million to $2.25 million.

That means less than half of 1 percent of TIF funds go to support small business, Shepard said. Romanelli said he had 38 applicants for small SBIF grants in the Kinzie Industrial TIF last year; funds were only available for eight grantees.

With aldermen now responding, cuts may be headed off this year – but it’s a bit of a fluke. Bares learned of the cuts ahead of time only because she serves on the city’s Community Development Advisory Committee; she went on to alert her colleagues. In previous years, delegate agencies learned their allocations were being cut only after the budget had been approved.

“This has certainly illustrated to us the difficulties everyday citizens have negotiating the city’s budget labyrinth,” she said.

Town hall on South Side Wal-Mart

A town hall meeting on the proposed Wal-Mart at 83rd and Stewart takes place Saturday and will feature chief proponent Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) along with Ald. Fredrenna Lyle (6th); Elce Redmond of the South Austin Community Coalition, which pushed unsuccessfully for a community benefits agreement for the West Side Wal-Mart; and Rev. Brook Vance of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation.

SOUL is part of the Good Jobs Chicago Coalition, which recently proposed a standard for major retailers including living wage levels, health benefits, and workers rights.

Wal-Mart has reportedly been invited to send a representative, too.

It’s sponsored by the Greater Chatham Alliance along with other neighborhood groups, Saturday, November 7, 12 noon, at St. James Lutheran Church, 80th and Michigan.  Topics will include pros and cons of a new Wal-Mart, potential impact on neighboring businesses, and alternative economic development strategies.

Preckwinkle and Reese

With the demise of Chicago 2016, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle is now the only public voice demanding wholesale demolition of Walter Gropius’s Reese Modern campus, as the Chicago Journal’s latest piece indicates.

She’s taking this position despite widespread support for preservation among her constituents.  And not just architecture buffs and preservationists:  At a ward meeting on the Olympic Village in August, many residents of Lake Meadows and Prairie Shores sported “Save Michael Reese” stickers.

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition points out that Preckwinkle was momentarily stumped when asked by Chicago Talks “what her constituents would like to see on the site.”  She replied: “We’re not there yet.  I would presume we’ll have a planning process as we go forward that will involve community residents.”

Notes the coalition, that community involvement will presumably occur after demolition is complete.

Preckwinkle may also be the only person who doesn’t believe Walter Gropius designed any buildings at Reese, as she told WTTW last month.  The Gropius coalition has said she’s rebuffed repeated offers to share their research with her.

Win or lose, Reese campus threatened

Demolition of the Michael Reese campus, including buildings designed by architect Walter Gropius, could commence immediately, regardless of whether Chicago wins its bid for the Olympics on Friday, said James Peters of Landmarks Illinois.

The group presented a plan to reuse several of the Gropius buildings in the redevelopment of the campus, but neither the city nor Chicago 2016 has given any response, he said.

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition cited a report in The Architect’s Newspaper quoting Chicago 2016’s Cassandra Francis, director of the Olympic Village, saying, “We are actually not considering alternative plans because we have received very positive feedback for our plans from the [International] Olympic committee.  If we do get the games, there is no room for preservation.”

Peters said he’s seen no indication that there has been any evaluation of the feasibility of reusing the historic buildings.  Such an evaluation would not take much time, he said, and there are a number of developers in Chicago “who have experience at reuse and know how to make money at it.”  He points to the award-winning adaptive redevelopment of the South Water Market near UIC.

Preserving the Gropius buildings would enable developers to seek significant historic preservation tax credits, he said.

But planners “seem to have come into this with a cleared-site mentality,” he said.

The Gropius coalition reports that the campus’s laundry building has already been severely damaged.

Peters said there is a great deal of demolition equipment now on the campus.  Demolition contracts were awarded in July.

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