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In Hyde Park, parents plan ‘Camp Solidarity’

In the event of a teachers’ strike Monday, Hyde Park parents and supporters are planning a free day camp – called “Camp Solidarity” – to show support for teachers and give families an alternative to crossing picket lines.

Parents, community members, and local artists will offer “a free full day of informal, engaging childcare – nature walks, art activities, silent reading, free play – with lunch provided” at Nichols Park, according to an e-mail to community members.

At 55th and Kimbark, the park is a couple blocks from Ray School, 5631 S. Kimbark, which CPS has designated as one of 144 “contingency sites” where students can get meals and supervision.

One difference:  while CPS sites will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Camp Solidarity will be open until 3:30 p.m.

At CPS sites, children will be in “a babysitting situation with tons of kids they don’t know, and for just a half day,” said local artist and Ray parent Laura Shaeffer.  “Where are the kids going to go after lunch?”  Other childcare options cost money, she pointed out..

Activities planned for day one include tree identification, gardening, singing and drumming, sign painting and chalk painting, and storytelling, she said.

Parents will be leafleting outside Ray to inform families dropping children off that they have a local alternative, said Joy Clendenning, who has children in three CPS schools including Ray.

“I don’t blame families who need to make sure their children are in a safe environment, but I don’t like how CPS is putting people in the position of having to cross a picket line,” she said.  “I wish they’d worked with churches and park districts and not decided to open schools during the strike.”

She added: “I think solidarity with the teachers is really important.”

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Penny Pritzker’s TIF

School board member Penny Pritzker’s Hyatt Hotels Corp. is benefiting from a $5.2 million TIF subsidy on 53rd Street – while CPS’s proposed 2013 budget cuts seven schools surrounding the hotel project by $3.4 million, which is roughly the portion CPS is losing from the TIF deal.

“This one example shows the fundamental corruption in the way things are done here,” said David Orlikoff of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, a labor and community coalition growing out of Occupy Chicago’s labor committee and supporting the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTSC will hold a press conference and speakout and picket the project at 53rd and Harper on Wednesday, August 8, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“As a member of the Board of Education, it’s Penny Pritzker’s job to find money for our schools, not to take our money for her business,” Orlikoff said.

The $5.2 million subsidy is part of $20.4 million in TIF funds going to the University of Chicago-led redevelopment of Harper Court (see here for some background).  In addition to the hotel, the university is building a 12-story office building in the first phase of the project.

CTSC points out that Pritzker has a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the University of Chicago – now engaged in a huge campus expansion – has an endowment of $6.6 billion.

“They have plenty of money,” said Lorraine Chavez of CTSC.  “They don’t need a taxpayer subsidy to pay for it.  It’s outrageous.”

At Catalyst, Penny Pritzker clarifies that she’s not personally receiving the $5.2 million, and in a statement to Newstips, Hyatt points out that the Hyde Park Hyatt will not be owned by the corporation but, like many Hyatts, operated under a franchise agreement, thus “neither Hyatt Hotels Corporation nor Penny Pritzker…is receiving TIF funds as a result of this project.”

Conflict of interest

“The school board should be defending school funding when the mayor wants to take it for TIFs; it’s the only body in a position to do that,” Orlikoff said.  “But they’re appointed by the mayor, and they look the other way.

“Then they tell teachers they don’t have any money for anything, except the mayor’s pet projects.  It’s a conflict of interest – and it will be a conflict until the school board is elected.

“We need representation on the school board, and we need to end the chronic underfunding of our schools,” Orlikoff said.

CTSC, which exists “to support teachers and fight for equitable quality education,” calls for increasing school funding “by reclaiming TIFs and taxing the rich.”

TIF is “a failed program,” Orlikoff said.  “It’s not fighting economic blight, it’s a way of taking from everyone and giving to the One Percent.”

Questions on 53rd Street

There are lots of questions right now about the 53rd Street TIF, especially with a new TIF district now being carved out of it by a second developer.

Antheus Capital, planning an upscale residential and retail development at 51st and Lake Park, wants to break its parcel out of the 53rd Street TIF to form its own TIF district —  in order apply for $10 million or more in TIF funds.  The 53rd Street TIF advisory council has okayed the proposal.

But after ten years of operation, the 53rd Street TIF fund has a balance of just $3.7 million.

Now, with thirteen years to go, it’s on the hook for a $20-million subsidy, while revenues are slowing (due not just to a lousy economy but to the County Assessor’s new formula, which shifts the property tax burden from commercial to residential taxpayers) – and the TIF district is getting smaller.

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U of C Folk Festival turns 50

The University of Chicago Folk Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend, and the Sun Times has a nice piece on what it means to younger fans and musicians (like Chicago’s star Irish fiddler Liz Carroll, who appears Saturday and Sunday nights).

The Gary Post Tribune gives a good sense of what to expect:  the range of styles at the evening shows at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th (bluegrass to blues, Creole to bagpipes); the lovely ambience of the free daytime workshops that fill Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th (“Wear your dancing shoes and join a room full of folks learning barn, Cajun, Irish or Scandinavian social dancing from experienced instructors, then dance to live music…join in sea shanty songs or hear programs like the story of the accordion through the ages”); not to mention that jam sessions that fill the nooks and crannies of the building all day.

A few weeks ago the Hyde Park Herald talked to a number of veterans of the festival’s early days.  The emphasis on traditional, noncommercial folk is what distinguished it from East Coast rivals in the heyday of the 1960s folk revival, noted Nina Helstein.  “It’s not Peter Paul and Mary,” she said. “It’s what people play on their back porch and learn from their uncle.”

And Bob Kass remembered a 1962 trip through the South with Larry Kart  to recruit rural performers, which earned them a solo performance from Mississippi Fred McDowell in his sharecropper’s cabin.

Fiddler Genevieve Koester, a native of Charleston, Illinois, and resident of Uptown, has gotten some hometown press (the Journal Gazette-Times Courier and the Times of Northwest Indiana) for her appearance Saturday and Sunday with the traditional string band New Mules (they also play a barn dance session Saturday afternoon).  According to the Times, Koester and company are renowned on “the barn-dance circuit that stretches from Valparaiso to Evanston,” performing “fast, fiddle-powered tunes steeped in the string-band tradition of rural Illinois.”

To tell the truth

A former editor of the Chicago Tribune has a neighborhood newspaper mad at her for withholding information.

You’d think Ann Marie Lipinski, who became Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago last September, would have learned something from her first assignment, which was to smooth things over after Alderman Pat Dowell discovered that the University was secretly buying up tracts of land on West Garfield Boulevard.

On August 13, Lipinski met with Gabriel Piemonte, editor of the Hyde Park Herald [and Herald general manager Sue Walker].  He asked “five different ways” for information on the demolition of Harper Court (which we discussed here last year).  Lipinski was not forthcoming.

The next day the bulldozers appeared and began demolishing the building housing the Dixie Kitchen (the restaurant recently made famous by Barack Obama on WTTW’s “Check Please”).

The demolition seems gratuitous, in that no developer has been chosen and the restaurant in the building next door has a lease that runs several more years, which (along with a lousy economy) would seem to make redevelopment anything but imminent.

The refusal to inform the Herald seems gratuitous too, especially since the Thursday meeting was a week away from the paper’s Wednesday publication date.

When the Herald complained in an editorial on August 26, Lipinski wrote back that the demolition schedule had been presented at the Hyde Park TIF Council’s June meeting, “a public gathering typically covered by the Herald.” She went on to emphasize “the very public nature of the Harper Court development.”

A editor’s note following the letter pointed out that the TIF council hadn’t met in June.

Piemonte says the reporter who covers the council remembered no mention of Harper Court demolition.  They searched the minutes — no record of any mention in May or July meetings.

So it would seem a refusal to inform is followed by an explanation that involves outright misinformation.  It’s probably better to tell the truth in the first place.

Hyde Park players

A new theater group, Hyde Park Community Players, presents two one-act plays (“Riders to the Sea” by John Synge and Chekov’s farce, “The Bear”), Friday and Saturday, June 5 and 6, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Experimental Station, 61st and Blackstone. Tickets are $8.

Election results

Bronzeville voters backed a referendum (with 87 percent voting ‘yes’) calling for affordable housing on city-owned vacant lots; Uptown voters backed referenda calling for devoting 40 percent of the city’s TIF funds to affordable housing, and requiring local hiring, living wage and guarantees of the right to organize from recipients of TIF subsidies, Chi-Town Daily News reports.  In Hyde Park, residents of one precinct blocked the University of Chicago’s hotel development plans by voting the precinct dry by a narrow margin.

In Oak Park, Berwyn and Riverside, voters supported by a 2-to-1 margin a referendum to phase out nuclear power in Illinois, replacing it with wind and solar power, according to the Nuclear Energy Information Service.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Asian-American Institute reported on exit polls showing overwhelming support for Barack Obama’s candidacy by Latinos (by an estimated 90 percent statewide) and Asian-Americans (81 percent in seven precincts in Chinatown and Bridgeport).  ICIRR and member organizations registered and mobilized thousands of voters in the region; the Chinese-American Service League mobilized 3,000 voters, including 1.600 new voters, according to AAI. 

New American Media reports that nationally the Latino vote increased by one third over 2004, and went 2-to-1 for Obama.  Nearly 1.5 million Latinos became citizens in the past two years. Together with African-Americans, Latino voters “decided the destiny of our country,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro of the National Council of La Raza.

Preemptive strike

Over the years Newstips has covered story after story about local groups seeking input into development plans and being completely shut out.  Now there’s a group that’s found serious leverage.

Hyde Parkers who are opposed to the University of Chicago’s efforts to bring in a hotel developer to demolish the shuttered Doctors Hospital and build on the site are poised to block the project by voting the precinct dry.

In the print version of its story, the Tribune quotes Ald. Leslie Hairston calling the referendum “an abuse of the process” and suggesting neighbors should see “what the company came up with in response to community suggestions.”

In fact they’re resorting to this “nuclear option” — voting the precinct dry would effectively block any hotel options at the site — because all community attempts at influencing development plans have been rebuffed.

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Harper Court rebate?

Could the University of Chicago get a few million dollars back on the $6.5 million purchase price for Harper Court

The Harper Court Arts Council, which is selling the nonprofit shopping center to the University, has said it will disburse its assets to local cultural charities, and earlier listed the University’s multimillion dollar drive to build a new performing arts center as a possible recipient.

A spokesperson at the Attorney General’s office thought that might be legal.

The bigger question, though, is whether the resulting redevelopment will be worse than the University’s first development disaster, the urban renewal program of the 1960s (see Jane Jacob’s “Death and Life of Great American Cities” for details; Arnold Hirsch explores the racial motivations in “The Making of the Second Ghetto”).

The track record of the dominant parties is not promising.

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