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Chicago 2016 pulls out of panel

After confirming their participation last month, Chicago 2016 called this morning to withdraw from tomorrow night’s Lawndale Alliance town meeting on the Olympics, organizer Valerie Leonard said.  The group’s neighborhood director Arnold Randall was to have appeared  with a representative of No Games Chicago for the first time.  (See Friday’s Newstip  for background.)

The Olympics organization said it would only participate in meetings sponsored by the Chicago Park District in conjunction with the Douglas Park Advisory Council, Leonard reported in a statement.

She said the most recent Douglas Park council meeting included no members of the council, a handful of North Lawndale residents, and a large contingent of bicyclists from outside the community pushing to make the proposed Olympic velodrome a permanent bicycling facility.  She said Lawndale residents spoke in favor of using the facility for “sports that are more culturally relevant to the current population.”

Olympics threaten Collins gym

[UPDATE: Chicago 2016 has cancelled its participation in the Lawndale town hall meeting – see Newstips 2.0.]

Will the 2016 Olympics force students in North Lawndale to give up their only high school gymnasium?

That’s one of the questions to be raised Tuesday, when representatives of Chicago 2016 and No Games Chicago meet publicly for the first time on a panel at a town hall sponsored by the Lawndale Alliance.

Lawndale residents only recently learned that Olympics planners intend to demolish the gymnasium of the Collins high school campus to make room for a $37 million, 6,000-seat indoor bicycle track in Douglas Park, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

The Collins school building, which houses the Collins Academy High School and a campus of North Lawndale College Prep, is the only building in North Lawndale that was built as a high school, Leonard said. Other high schools in the community share campuses with grammar schools and use park facilities for physical education and sports.

“When push comes to shove, it’s never the kids’ interests that come first,” she said. She’s concerned that, with sanctions recently threatened for the struggling North Lawndale College Prep, the high school building itself could be in jeopardy.

Chicago 2016 did not respond to a request for comment.

Chicago 2016 neighborhood director Arnold Randall will join Tom Tresser of No Games Chicago and 24th Ward Alderwoman Sharon Dixon at the Lawndale town hall meeting, Tuesday, May 12, 6 to 8 p.m. at Dvorak School, 3615 W. 16th.

The Olympics town hall is the first of three planned for this month by the Lawndale Alliance. On Tuesday, May 19, representatives of local nonprofits will discuss the foreclosure crisis and what the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program will mean for the community. On the next Tuesday, May 26, Leonard will give a report from available information on the seven TIFs impacting North Lawndale.

After agreeing to participate in the town hall meetings, the city’s Department of Community Development recently cancelled its participation, Leonard said.

Help for Lawndale ‘TIF Dwellers’

The Lawndale Alliance is holding a workshop for “TIF Dwellers” with public, private and nonprofit experts offering information and resources on property tax relief, home repairs and providing equipment like drills etc, mortgage foreclosure prevention, Saturday, March 29, 9:30 a.m. at the Westside Association for Community Action, 3600 W. Ogden.

It’s the kind of help the Alliance hopes the proposed Ogden-Pulaski TIF will provide for existing residents of the area — though they’ve received no indication that it will do so.

The Alliance has protested the exclusion of residents from TIF planning and plans to bring their concerns to the City Council’s Finance Committee, which will consider the TIF on April 14.

Proposed by several nonprofit development groups, the TIF is backed by Ald. Sharon Dixon of the 24th ward, where three-fourths of the TIF is located, and by Ald. Rick Munoz of the 22nd Ward.   The proposed TIF runs from Roosevelt to 24th Street and from Kostner to Albany.

The Lawndale Alliance isn’t opposing the $100 million TIF, said Valerie Leonard. It merely wants protections to ensure that taxpayers living in the the area — whose increased property taxes will help fund the TIF — will benefit from it.

First the group wants errors corrected on the proposed lists of properties to be acquired.

When the city released updated lists in October, it gave only PIN numbers, not addresses — and when Joe Ann Bradley of the Alliance checked the numbers out she found a number of discrepancies between numbers and addresses.  In addition, a number of properties listed as potentially displaced due to disrepair have actually undergone extensive renovation — some to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars — within recent years, Leonard said.

Lawndale Alliance advocates the removal of all properties from the TIF’s list of housing potentially displaced.  Leonard points out that the proposed $10 million budget for property acquisition wasn’t reduced even after the number of lots and buildings to be acquired was cut dramatically — from 1600 vacant lots to 652, and from 135 buildings potentially displaced to 26 properties with 41 units of housing.  She wants a portion of those funds set aside to assist homeowners whose homes are listed for displacement.  “Many are very low income seniors,” Leonard said.

The city’s alternative is a Neighborhood Improvement Program, but such grants are parcelled out in small groups and chosen by lottery, Leonard said.

The Alliance has called for removing provisions for eminent domain from the ordinance establishing the TIF and replacing them with voluntary property acquisition.  They point to the recent Lincoln Square TIF as a model.  According to Les Knistern of the Greater Rockwell Organization, Ald. Gene Schulter agreed to put properties that would have been subject to eminent domain on a voluntary acquisition list after protests from residents.

The Alliance has called for a TIF Advisory Council, and Ald. Dixon reportedly promised to establish one last year, collected applications, then put off naming a council until the TIF is approved.   The group wants a negotiated Community Benefits Agreement for the TIF and “systems of accountability” on issues like job creation and business development for local residents.

They’ve written an open letter containing their proposals to the two aldermen and received no response, Leonard said.  And a myriad of resident concerns raised at public meetings have not been addressed.

“There’s just been terrible communication,” she said.  “We’re just asking for an open dialogue.”

She believes support is growing for reform of TIF regulations on the state level.

Leonard said Lawndale Alliance will continue with advocacy, education, and resource linkages to help residents “maintain ownership of their homes.”  As a next step, the group is planning a forum on homeowner’s rights and eminent domain with a former city lawyer, she said.

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