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Lathrop plans: little preservation, big TIF

Three new plans for redeveloping Lathrop Homes fall far short of the project’s stated goal of historic preservation – to the point that developers will pass up tens of millions of dollars in federal historic preservation tax credits.

Instead, they plan to ask for $30 million or more from a new TIF district.

The plans have garnered widespread local opposition due to heavy increases in density and congestion.

CHA and Lathrop Community Partners will present three scenarios at open houses (Thursday, November 15, 3 to 8 p.m., and Saturday, November 17, 12 to 4 p.m.) at New Life Community Church, 2958 N. Damen.

At 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Lathrop residents and neighbors will hold a press conference to denounce all the scenarios and the lack of any meaningful community engagement.

Already thirteen neighborhood associations have signed onto a letter to CHA from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) calling for rejection of all three plans due to excessive density and lack of public participation.

And Tuesday, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) sent an e-mail blast announcing the open houses and saying, “I do not believe that any of the individual scenarios on the table are an acceptable plan to move Lathrop Homes forward.”

Total demolition

In fact, one of the scenarios would almost certainly fail to win regulatory approval.

Dubbed the “Delta Greenscapes” scenario, it calls for demolition of all of Lathrop’s low-rise, historic buildings.

But since Lathrop was named to the National Register of Historic Places in April, any demolition involving federal funds must be approved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.  And CHA will use federal funds to cover the costs of rehabbing and operating public housing at Lathrop.

“Clearly, demolishing everything would not meet preservation guidelines and would rarely be an  approveable action under the federal program,” said Michael Jackson, chief architect for preservation services at IHPA, who notes that nothing has been submitted to his agency.

Approval might be forthcoming in cases involving extreme deterioration and functional obsolescence, but “I can’t see that logic applying here,” he said. “The essence of the Lathrop project is historic preservation.  It’s been identified as a historic property, and the development team has been given that direction.”

Indeed, the RFQ under which LCP was selected states that the developer “shall consider preservation one of the priorities of the revitalization.”

“What they’re pulling is a typical developer’s trick,” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.  “We’re going to show you something so god-awful that when we walk it back to something slightly less god-awful, the community will think it’s won something.”

Developers prefer TIF

Despite the RFQ’s request for developers with experience using historic tax credits, none of the plans are likely to qualify for the credits, which cover 20 percent of a project’s costs – in this case, tens of millions of dollars.  That’s what developers told aldermen in August, said Paul Sajovek, Waguespack’s chief of staff.

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Affordable housing for Lincoln Park

Lakeview Action Coalition will unveil plans for Lincoln Park’s first affordable housing initiative in decades at its annual assembly Sunday.

More than 700 members of churches and other LAC affiliates are expected to meet with elected officials — including Congressman Danny Davis, State Senate President John Cullerton, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and several aldermen — on Sunday, May 6 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church, 2335 N. Orchard.

Ald. Michele Smith and McCafferey Interests, developers of the Children’s Memorial Hospital site at Fullerton and Halsted, have agreed to include affordable housing requirements beyond the legal minimum in a planned development agreement for the property, LAC organizers said.

How far beyond remains under discussion.  LAC is pushing for 200 units with rents ranging below 40 percent and up to 120 percent of the metropolitan median, in order to house seniors as well as  neighborhood teachers and retail workers.

The best way to maximize affordable housing is to use the Nellie Black building at Orchard and Fullerton, an organizer said.  The 1931 red brick and masonry structure, built in 1931 to house nurses and interns, is one of six historic buildings on the site that Preservation Chicago has called for preserving.

In addition to affordable housing, LAC and the Children’s Memorial Redevelopment Coalition have called for an open planning process, adaptive reuse of historic structures, and sustainable design.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gypsy music in Chicago

One of the world’s greatest cimbalom players – who’s also one of Chicago’s hidden musical treasures – is playing this Sunday, and the Gypsy Culture Preservation Project is urging music lovers to attend (7:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday, April 17 at Marie’s Italian Restaurant, 4127 W. Lawrence).

Alex Udvary is one of the world’s top-ranked players of the cimbalom (a European hammer dulcimer) and, with his many musical cousins, a stalwart of Chicago’s Romani music community.  Udvary is who the CSO calls when they need a cimbalom player; Kodaly, Bartok, Stravinsky, Boulez and others have written for the instrument. He’s also been featured in a TV commercial for Wendy’s.  He comes from a long line of Gypsy musicians; his great-aunt, the Countess Verona, is considered one of the great cimbalom players of all time.

Udvary has performed across Europe and in the close-knit Gypsy community here since moving to Chicago in the ’70s; he plays in a duo at Julius Meinl once a month.  Sunday’s gig is a rare opportunity to catch a larger ensemble – he’ll be joined by cousins playing violin, guitar and bass, performing swing, Hungarian folk, Yiddish, and continental repertoire in the highly-ornamented Gypsy cabaret style – and if the turnout is good, Steve Balkin of the GCPP says it could become a weekly engagement.

Balkin is known as a voice for preservation of Maxwell Street (read his open letter to the new mayor at Beachwood Reporter); he’s an economist at Roosevelt University.  He encountered Chicago’s Gypsies at the old Maxwell Street and has studied their culture in line with his interests in outdoor markets and microenterprises.  As his interest grew, he began compiling online resources and maintains a clearinghouse for Romani Culture on the internet.

“You have to go to Budapest or Paris to hear music like this,” Balkin says. “Alex and his cousins are the last generation of American gypsy musicians who play this repertoire.”  He’s asking fans of ethnic and world music to come out and support  “this spirited, thrilling, soulful music.”

Here’s Alex Udvary with violinist Jovan Mihailovic at Julius Meinl’s:

Big plans for Michael Reese

Again Mayor Daley touts a “world-class technology park” on the nearly vacant site of Michael Reese Hospital.

As Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago said here in September, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?”

Not just handy lab buildings, either – the most significant collection in the nation of buildings whose design was guided by Walter Gropius, one of the major architects of the 20th century.  Blair Kamin called the demolition at the hands of Daley and Toni Preckwinkle “cultural vandalism.”

Lynn Becker recently pointed out that the 2009 demolition of Reese and the 1989 demolition of Block 37 – which included the landmark 1872 McCarthy Building, John Peter Altgeld’s 1892 Unity Building, the 1921 United Artists Theatre designed by Holabird and Roche, and the 1928 art deco Hillman Building with the venerable Stop & Shop gourmet emporium – are the “twin bookends” of Daley’s reign.

There was big talk of big plans back then too, but not until 16 years later was anything built, and what we got was a “sad, ‘better-something-than-nothing'” compromise on the original visions.

And much like Reese’s labs, the Stop & Shop would have suited today’s new Loop-dwellers, and the United Artists Theatre “would have provided a much-needed smaller capacity venue for the mayor’s revived Randolph Street district,” Becker points out.

Along the way he gives a fascinating view of the arc of Daley’s career, from “Dirty Little Richie” to the conciliator of his early mayoralty — till “the nasty habits of his youth returned: the bullying, the intolerance of dissent, the constant ridiculing of any ideas other than his own, the incoherent, angry rants.”

Says Becker: “The mayor’s most willful initiatives were often his most embarrassing blunders.”  Put Reese in that category.

What now for Lathrop Homes?

What does the CHA board’s recent approval of a development team for Lathrop Homes – which includes nonprofit and for-profit developers – mean for Lathrop residents’ vision of historic preservation of the low-rise development as affordable and public housing?

“There has been no decision about what is going to be built,” said Joy Aruguete, executive director of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp., part of the selected development team.

“We’re going into an open planning process.  All voices will be heard,” she said.  “I think our development team will roll with where things go.”

The development team was selected under a request for qualifications (pdf) produced by a working group of stakeholders convened by CHA – but issued over the objections of residents and community groups in the working group.  They had called for a plan focused on public and affordable housing, citing the predominance of new luxury development in the area.

Lathrop Local Advisory Council President Robert Davidson, a working group member, wrote to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan calling on him “to ask the CHA not to issue an RFQ until the Working Group reaches consensus – the basis for decision-making that we agreed upon in our first meeting,” Residents Journal reported.

The RFQ departs somewhat from the cookie-cutter formula of the CHA’s plan for transformation – one-third each public, affordable, and luxury housing – calling instead for a range of 800 to 1200 units to developed, with not more than a third as public housing.

It calls for developers with experience in historic preservation using federal preservation tax credits, and sets the goal of making Lathrop the first CHA development to gain LEED certification for green design and construction.

(A previous request for proposals, drafted by CHA staff and aimed at demolishing Lathrop and replacing it with new construction, was withdrawn following objections from residents and supporters — and also from HUD, which pointed out that since Lathrop has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it couldn’t be demolished using federal funds without thorough consideration of preservation alternatives.)

‘No predetermined plan’

In a statement to Preservation in December, CHA said that “no predetermined plan exists regarding unit distribution, income mixes or total number of units.  Such a determination can only occur when the working group completes its task and the planning process begins in earnest with the selection of a development partner and the engagement of the broader community.”

But  noting CHA’s earlier commitment to keep 400 public housing units at Lathrop and the RFQ’s one-third limitation, John McDermott of Logan Square Neighborhood Association fears that CHA’s expectations remain at 1200 units, which he says would make preservation practically impossible.

Aruguete talks about Bickerdike’s long experience in engaging residents in community planning and promoting “community development by and for the benefit of community residents.” She says the development team “hopes to be able to build some bridges” and “get to a win-win outcome.”

Bickerdike has long worked with LSNA on affordable housing issues.  But Aruguete may be missing something when she says, “I think the community and residents are largely focused on the affordability issue as the only question.”

In fact, residents and community groups are backing a preservation plan out of a combination of quality-of-life issues, historical pride, and practical concerns.

Residents back preservation

Last December, the Lathrop LAC, LSNA, and residents and community supporters in the Lathrop Leadership Team endorsed a preservation plan (pdf) drawn up by architects working for Landmarks Illinois in consultation with residents.

That plan would reconfigure existing buildings with larger units, producing about 800 apartments where 925 now exist.  It meets accessibility requirements and could attain LEED certification, said Jim Peters of Landmarks Illinois.

With a higher-density redevelopment, “it would be very difficult to preserve very many of the buildings,” said Peters, especially with requirements for parking and access roads.

“We would lose a lot of open space – they’d probably have to tear down the park,” said longtime resident Cynthia Scott, a member of the Lathrop Leadership Team.  “If you’re talking about 1200 units, you have to go high up – six stories or even more – and it’s probably not going to be built as well” as what’s there now.

“The most environmentally sustainable way to revitalize Lathrop is to use historic preservation,” said Scott Shaffer of the Lathrop Homes Alumni Chicago.

“These buildings are so beautiful, and not just that – construction today is just not comparable,” said Shaffer, who is a bricklayer.  “Today’s construction materials are just not as good.”

“It makes no sense to demolish and dispose of 30 structurally-sound brick buildings and truck them to a landfill, only to replace them with buildings constructed of all new materials, and all the energy that consumes,” said Peters.

And preservation would cost a lot less than demolition and high-density new construction – at least half as much, and quite possibly less than that.

Mixed-income plans stall

Including newly-built market-rate housing “makes it much more complicated,” McDermott said. “It would involve many levels of financing in the middle of a very difficult economy; it would involve multiple phases of construction.”

In contrast to an affordable preservation rehab, which  could be accomplished in three to five years, it would mean “the process could easily stretch out ten, fifteen years or more” for a community that’s already been “in limbo for over a decade,” he said.

Shaffer points to mixed-income redevelopment projects that are part of the CHA’s plan for transformation and are years behind schedule. Several are also in financial trouble: last year the city was forced to bail out developers at Cabrini-Green and Lakefront Crescent due to slow sales and elusive private financing.

Also stalled, as the Chicago Journal reports, is the Roosevelt Square development intended to replace CHA’s ABLA Homes.

It’s particularly resonant for Lathrop supporters.  ABLA included Jane Addams Homes, which along with Lathrop was one of the three original CHA developments built by the New Deal’s  Public Works Administration in 1937-38.  And Roosevelt Square developers include two of Bickerdike’s partners at Lathrop, the nonprofit affordable developer Heartland Housing, and lead developer Related Midwest, a developer of luxury high-rises and adaptive reuse.

There wasn’t much adaptive reuse at Addams: of 32 existing buildings, only one remains; funds are now being raised to restore it as the National Public Housing Museum.

Six years after construction started on Roosevelt Square, less than one-third of its promised public housing units are completed, and even lower percentages of market rate and affordable housing are done, according to the Journal.

Related is getting a bailout too: in March, the CHA board approved a $3.4 million loan to help Related Midwest with pre-construction costs for Roosevelt Square’s second phase, which “was supposed to be completed by now,” the Journal reported.

According to the Journal, Related has also failed to come up with funds promised in 2007 to restore WPA sculptures from Jane Addams Homes’ Animal Court.

Related Midwest recently cancelled two high-rise condo developments in Chicago and defaulted on a $28 million loan to finance a huge condo development in Tucson, Crain’s reports.

‘A beautiful job’

In sharp contrast, restoration of Trumbull Park Homes on the far South Side – the third sister of Lathrop and Addams, built in 1938 – took just three years and was completed three years ago.   It remains 100 percent public housing.

“CHA did a beautiful job at Trumbull,” Peters said.  “And it’s hard to say it can’t work at Lathrop after you see Trumbull.”  He points out that demand for land is substantially greater around Lathrop – but that’s one reason to preserve it.  “It’s ironic that now that there are jobs around there and it’s a desirable area, they want to take it away.”

Preservation would bring a major financing advantage – the federal historic preservation tax credit, which would cover 20 percent of development costs.  CHA’s RFQ mentions the tax credit as a potential source of financing.  But of three schemes sketched out in a 2008 site analysis by CHA – new construction, mixed new and old, and full conservation – only the latter would qualify, Peters said.

“It wouldn’t be eligible if they only preserved a few buildings, or if they’re going to be plopping new buildings around the existing ones,” he said.  “They’ll destroy the character – the way the buildings relate to each other and to the open space — and that’s what makes it historic.”

Lathrop was the crown jewel of its class – a national model for successful, human-scale public housing, Peters said.  “The site plan was really a model because it did such a good job of creating interesting architecture and layout and public space,” he said.  “It just worked well – and it’s always been a successful community — because it’s well-designed and well-built.

“Unfortunately its lessons were lost” in the high-rise projects built in the 1950s and ’60s – and the lessons are in danger of being lost again, if Lathrop is made a high-density development.  “It works because it has open space,” Peters said.

Lathrop Homes was determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 1994; at a December 10 meeting in Springfield, the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council will vote on Lathrop’s nomination to the Register.  If approved as expected by the National Park Service, the redevelopment project would be eligible for the preservation tax credit.

Enough luxury housing

The bottom line for many Lathrop supporters is that, given all the costs, market-rate housing just doesn’t make sense for Lathrop Homes.  It’s located in an area where affordable housing has been steadily disappearing; 34,000 rental apartments were lost in the area between 2000 and 2007, mainly to condo conversion — and today many thousands of high-end condos sit unsold around Lathrop.

“We’re completely surrounded by condos, everywhere you look,” said Scott.

“It’s not just poor people, it’s middle-income people who are losing jobs and being foreclosed on,” said Shaffer.  “These are people who could use these apartments today.”

Even splitting the development, preserving a section and putting new construction on the rest of the site, would be “a tremendous waste of a resource” in an area where affordable housing is badly needed and land is extremely hard to come by, McDermott said.

After all these years, CHA’s push on Lathrop comes at a curious time, he points out.  “In a few months we’ll have a new mayor and a new City Council, and we’re going to have to take a new look at the whole plan for transformation in light of the economy and the housing crisis,” he said.

Look at CHA’s past plans for Lathrop:  in 2000, in the first version of the PFT, CHA said there would be 750 units of public housing there after revitalization; six years later, the agency announced plans to demolish the entire development and replace it with 1200 units of new construction.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the determination of residents and their supporters to save Lathrop. And they intend to be fully involved in the planning process now commencing.  Who knows what’s in store for the oldest – and arguably the most successful and significant — property in CHA’s portfolio?

Michael Reese buildings threatened

Despite 24-hour security, two remaining buildings at the historic Michael Reese Hospital campus are being stripped by scavengers, who have taken all copper and aluminum and much of the iron, along with radiators and air ducts, according to the Hyde Park Herald (September 22).

Now, with a cleanup fund nearly exhausted, radioactive chemicals have been discovered on the site.

Reporting on a meeting with residents of the nearby Prairie Shores development on September 16, the Herald says Ald. Toni Preckwinkle “appeared receptive to neighbors’ calls to tear down the remaining buildings,” though she “declined to state explicitly that she was considering” demolition.

Last year Preckwinkle and the city agreed to preserve the Old Main Hospital Building, a prairie-school structure built in 1907, as preservationists fought demolition of over two dozen buildings designed by and with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

Demolition proceeded, even as the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council endorsed the nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the 1907 building, one Gropius building remains, the seven-story Singer Pavillion.  The rest of the site is completely bare, including lush landcapes created by world-renowned designers, now stripped away.

The city bought the campus last year for $86 million – with $32 million rebated to pay for cleanup – expecting to sell it to developers who would build an Olympic Village there (see last year’s Newstips report).  It now appears nothing is to be done with the 37-acre site.

Mayor Daley recently floated the idea of developing a biotechnology center there, but it has generated little enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.

Fine questioned the city’s commitment to preserving the remaining buildings and challenged the quality of security there.  “Taxpayers are paying for security and they’re not getting it,” he said.  “It reeks to high heaven.  They’re using this to justify their own cultural vandalism.”

What are the lessons of the Reese debacle?  “First, that haste makes waste,” Fine said.  “Second, that arrogant, unilateral urban planning serves no purpose.  Third, that the people who have been elected to watch out for the City of Chicago’s financial interests have failed miserably.”

Hospitals are a major focus for preservationists at the moment, Fine said.  They’re keeping an eye on plans to redevelop the old Cook County Hospital building as medical offices.  And they’re gearing up an effort to save the “old” Prentice Women’s Hospital, designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the early 1970s; Northwestern University wants to tear it down to make room for a new research center.

Metropolis Magazine has a report on Prentice.  Blair Kamin reports it will be included in an October 9 Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of Goldberg buildings called “Architecture in the Round.”

[Correction:  Northwestern University and Bertrand Goldberg were misidentified in an earlier version.]

Landmarks in Black History

Lorraine Hansberry remembered the house at 6140 S. Rhodes, which her family moved into when she was eight years old, as being “in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house.”

She recalled “being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.” In “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” the posthumous collection of her writings, she remembered her mother keeping watch all night with a loaded gun while her father was out of town.

The family’s struggle when they moved into Washington Park in 1937 — including a lawsuit which went to the Supreme Court — is reflected in Hansberry’s groundbreaking play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” which opened on Broadway in 1959.

On Monday, a City Council committee is expected to consider a recommendation from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to list the Hansberry House as one of four buildings representing the Chicago Black Renaissance literary movement of the mid-20th century.

Lorraine Hansberry’s father was a successful businessman and prominent activist – visitors to their home included W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson. When a white neighbor sued to enforce a restrictive covenant barring African Americans from buying homes in the area, Carl Hansberry took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Earl B. Dickerson as his attorney.

In 1940, in the landmark case Lee v. Hansberry, the Supreme Court overturned the Washington Park covenant.  The case helped lay the groundwork for a 1948 ruling that declared all restrictive covenants unconstitutional.

Other buildings being considered Monday include the homes of Richard Wright, 4831 S. Vincennes, and Gwendolyn Brooks, 7428 S. Evans, as well as the George C. Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 4801 S. Michigan.

Wright lived in Chicago from 1927 to 1937, publishing his first stories, writing his first novel (published posthumously as “Lawd Today!”), working with the Federal Writers Project of the New Deal and founding the South Side Writers Club with writers like Arna Bontemps, Margaret Walker, and Horace Cayton.   His most famous novel, “Native Son,” is set on Chicago’s South Side.

After he got a post office job in 1929, Wright was able to move his mother, aunt and brother out of a rooming house and  into the second-floor, four-room apartment on Vincennes, where he had room to read and write.  They lived there till 1932.

Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poems of life in Bronzeville and of protest against segregation and brutality.  Her career bridged the Black Renaissance of the 1930s and ’40s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  She succeeded Carl Sandburg as Illinois poet laureate and was the first African American named to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  With her husband and children, she lived in the modest house at 7428 S. Evans for over 40 years.

The Hall Library opened in 1932, headed by Vivian Harsh, the first African American branch librarian in Chicago.  She developed a remarkable Special Negro Collection (it’s now the Vivian G. Harsh Collection and housed in its own wing at the Woodson Regional Library), along with community programs including a biweekly literary forum which attracted leading authors.  Located at the heart of Bronzeville, the library was also central to the Black Renaissance.  Harsh served as head librarian until 1958.

Landmark status would mandate approval by the landmarks commission whenever building permits are requested for any of the buildings.

Last year the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review an Appellate Court decision that found the criteria for selection in the landmarks ordinance to be unconstitutionally vague.  The original case will be reheard later this year in circuit court.  The ordinance remains in effect.

The overturning of longstanding precedent stunned preservationists and called into question the future of landmark preservation law in Chicago.  In December a state court in Washington rejected a similar argument which cited the Illinois ruling.  (Vince Michaels of the School of the Art Institute blogs about it at Time Tells.)

Another Bronzeville landmark, the South Side Community Art Center, launches a 70th anniversary celebration next month.  The last remaining center developed by the New Deal’s Federal Arts Project, it was founded by Margaret Burroughs among others and dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.

Questions remain at Lathrop Homes

In inviting developers to submit qualifications for work on Lathrop Homes yesterday, CHA officials broke a promise, residents said.

They’d promised no decisions until the working group, which was convened by CHA to guide revitalization at Lathrop, came to an agreement, said Resident Advisory Council president Robert Davidson, who is a member of the group.

Said Davidson in a statement, “Consensus was promised, but not reached.”

CHA’s William Little told WBEZ,  “We want to attempt to achieve the broadest possible consensus.”  He added, “For the most part.”

Advocates who had a quick look at the RFQ suggested the concerns of residents and their supporters had some impact.

It doesn’t require a development plan to project a profit, and instead of requiring 1200 new units, it indicates a range of 800 to 1200 units.  Instead of locking in a mix of one-third each of public, affordable, and market-rate housing, it talks about one-third public housing with the rest on a range of affordability, focused on 30 to 160 percent of area median income.

That could open the door to nonprofit developers committed to affordable housing and preservation at the 925-unit development, located at Diversy and Clybourn.

Residents, alumni, community groups including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and preservationists, emphasizing “the humane scale, excellent design and landscape, and history of racial diversity” at Lathrop Homes, have called on CHA for 100 percent affordable redevelopment – with half of the units remaining as as public housing – and for historic preservation.

CHA touted their requirement that developers meet green building standards, but Lathrop alumni leader Scott Shaffer pointed out that “tearing down existing structures instead of rehabbing them is not green.”

Said Shaffer: “A plan for 1200 units would turn a successful low-rise development with ample green space into a high-rise complex that would tower over the surrounding neighborhood.”



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