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Uptown Update: Why Mum's Not the Word on Wilson Yard

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

uptownupdateI get a kick out of Uptown Update, the popular community news blog for the North Side's Uptown neighborhood. It's always entertaining. But not always for the right reasons.

For the past couple of years, its claim to fame--along with Buena Park Neighbors and the Uptown Neighborhood Council--has been vituperative opposition to Holsten Corp.'s $150 million Wilson Yard redevelopment project on the site of a former CTA rail yard on Broadway between Montrose and Sunnyside. Potential development plans for the rail yard (whose story is well summarized on railfan site Chicago-L.org) were vetted with 46th Ward residents beginning in the late 1990s, leading up to the creation of a Wilson Yard Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district by city ordinance in 2001.

In December 2008, a group of project opponents associated with the three websites filed a lawsuit seeking to challenge the 2001 TIF ordinance. At the time, the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky--our fair city's staunchest opponent to using TIF funds for the benefit of private developers--suggested the reason for the Uptown Update gang's ongoing ire is the fact that by the time shovels finally hit ground on the Wilson Yard redevelopment project, the neighborhood was already busy redeveloping on its own with upscale, market-rate condo units. The current plan includes only affordable housing, anchored by a new Target retail store.

According to the "official" opposition blog, FixWilsonYard.org, Joravsky's partly right. The overarching reasons for the hostility of Uptown Update et al., however, seem to be doubt that Target Corp. will actually build the new store and fear that the low-income housing element of the project will turn the Wilson Yard area into a new Cabrini-Green (from the site, "Residents of this failed housing model will be easy prey for the gangs and drug crews that terrorize Uptown today.")

As this discussion thread on Buena Park Neighbors points out, although the project no longer includes mixed-income housing as originally planned, what will be built is a far cry from Chicago's miserably failed midcentury public housing. A joint press release from Holsten Corp., Target Corp., and the office of 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller posted to the Ward website in November 2008 confirms Target's participation and describes two modest affordable-housing buildings: an 80-unit complex for families and a 98-unit complex for seniors, both with on-site management and strict tenant-selection criteria. [Full disclosure: Yours Truly wrote the very press release working as a vendor for a local P.R. firm.]

So why the continued ire from the Uptown Update gang? According to the Update, because Holsten Corp. and Alderman Shiller refuse to debate the project details on their merits. On the other hand, project opponents have dramatically disrupted several public meetings called by Shiller and Holsten Corp. President Peter Holsten, so reticence on their part to continue to stand in front of the crosshairs is understandable.

In fact, operating under the assumption that the loudest voice wins seems to be working in the court of public opinion. Mention Wilson Yard to an average Uptown resident--for example, my date over Memorial Day weekend--and you're likely to hear an earful about alleged bad behavior on the part of Holsten and Shiller. (Imagine my surprise.)

That's understandable, too--neither developer nor alderman have mounted much of a public defense of themselves. Although Shiller's staff has posted some background information about the project on the 46th Ward website, the last words were those of the press release--published to the site more than six months ago.

Holsten Corp. has been even less forthcoming with public information, posting a mere three paragraphs about Wilson Yard on its corporate website. Holsten also didn't help matters much when it legally went after several local blogs including Uptown Update, attempting to subpoena the names of any bloggers who were also plaintiffs in the TIF lawsuit. The move was seen by many as an attack on the First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly and drew the immediate legal assistance of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Earlier this month, the opposition's own lawsuit was thrown out, on the grounds that the plaintiffs waited to long to file a complaint against the 2001 Wilson Yard TIF ordinance. According to a May 24th Uptown Update post, the plaintiffs aren't taking "no" for an answer--but they refuse to divulge their new legal strategy until their next court date, currently set for Friday, June 12th.

Lest all this leave you thinking opposition to the Wilson Yard project is unanimous in Uptown, according to a May 12th story in the Chi-Town Daily News, two major area social-justice groups, the Organization of the NorthEast and Northside Action for Justice, support the use of TIF financing for the creation of affordable housing--in theory, and on the ground at the Wilson Yard site. The Daily News also reiterated Target Corp.'s confirmation that their new store is a foregone conclusion.

Still, if past is prologue, I'd expect the pages of Uptown Update to conitnue to rail against the rail yard redevelopment plan for some time to come. Although the plaintiffs have likey lost their legal battle, their on-message-like-a-laserbeam strategy will probably continue to win over the support of locals--especially if Holsten and Shiller continue to shirk their own right to free expression.

I wish the latter two luck. Words to the wise for anyone else wishing to tangle with the wags at Uptown Update: silence may be golden, but it's tight lips that sink ships on the blogosphere.

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13 Comments

Mike Doyle said:

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As I expected, after Uptown Update carried this story, their regular commenters went for the jugular. As I noted in the post, their reputation precedes them, so no surprise there.

My point in the post is that Uptown Update's PR strategy to stay on message, give the public regular updates, and use the blogosphere to accomplish those two things is a powerful model, and one which developer and alderman should both heed. The fight with the latter two, however, is all Uptown Update's, not mine.

It's going to remain that way, people.

irishpirate said:

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Mikey,

I know being from NYC you likely have a thin skin, but us "regular commenters" were kind to you.

If we had been mean you'd be sleeping with the alewives off Navy Pier right now.

Some of us, me at least, were just having some fun at your somewhat deserved expense.

Please feel free to spend some time and money in Uptown. We may lack the tightly enclosed drama of Marina City, but there is drama enough here for anyone.

Toodles.

Mike Doyle said:

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You can be such pains in the rump at the Update--as evidenced (said in my fayest, upgliding, Jack McFarland tone.). Much like us New Yorkers, which is probably why I read you guys. What makes you think I don't spend time in Uptown?
You have good eateries up there, I don't shy away.

Before my editor suggests it, you'd look better without a pothole as your avatar. Feel free to upload a pic of yourself, and browse around the rest of CN :-)

Bradley_Uptown said:

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Well Mike, it may be "our fight" and not yours but as you disclosed, you are (or at least were) a paid mercenary for one side of the battle.

Mike Doyle said:

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No, silly, I was a paid writer. We don't carry guns or bother with all that messy camouflage face paint. You don't want to see me in khakis, either. Heinous, trust me.

And frankly, you didn't need me at that point because as I said above (it's funny how you Updaters never seem to take a compliment unless it's couched in an oath of fealty)--your strategy was perfect.

But I'm starting to see why the developer and alderman have shut you guys out. Staying on message is highly useful, but all-or-nothing/you're-either-with-me-or-against-me behavior is tiresome.

It's also unfair. It may, however, be cause for an interesting follow-up post. Hmm...

Bradley_Uptown said:

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You say writer, I say propogandist (which is very much a function of battle). I did recognize your compliment, however feint the praise may have been.

irishpirate said:

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Mike,

you are either with us or against us as that great leader of men George W Bush might say. Ok, that MIGHT be a bad example.

As for Holsten and Shiller so many lies have been told for so long about Wilson Yard in particular and TIFS in general that the anger level has reached Clintonian dead-ender proportions. I've been in Uptown since before Bush was President and I'm seen alot. The first Bush that is and while there is incivility on all sides the main cause of the problems is the attitude of Helen Shiller. Before she was a pompous jackass who opposed "the machine". Now she is a pompous jackass who has tethered her saddle to "da mare". Read some of the stuff Joravasky has written in "da Reader".


My own personal take on Wilson Yard is that it's not gonna be as bad as some people predict. The real issue I have is the absolutely horrible waste of what was the best vacant parcel on "da nort side". How you can build a Target, and I believe it will come, and not rebuild the EL station and have it open directly into the Target and Truman College is beyond me. Even Ron Huberman said something similar regarding moving the EL stop to Montrose when he was in his last short time position as Prez of da CTA.

Placing the Seniors building at the corner of Montrose and Broadway is absolutely "silly, silly, silly" as Hizzoner might say. There should be multiple entrance/exits to the future Target on Montrose AND Broadway. Right now everyone will have to enter/exit off Broadway. It's just horrible planning.

Basically our glorious Mayor is a control freak. He can't stand any opposition. In 1999 Shiller was forced into a runoff for aldercritter. In 2003 shortly before she faced the same opponent she and Daley came to some agreement and they endorsed one another. Since then she has basically had great access to the TIF honeypot known as "Wilson Yard". I'm guessing that with the exception of the Truman College Parking garage she has gotten nearly everything she wanted from said "pot o' taxpayer gold". In return she has voted or abstained from voting on all key issues to "his elective majesty" in the way he dictates.

Oh well Mikey. I really think you are making too much of the "with us or against us" line some commenters take. That's normal behavior for human beings who are worked up. Not all of us try to bring people together like that fine Sout' Side Irishman Barack O'Bama.

I imagine living in Marina City is sorta similar with the fun going on "over by dere".

Toodles, I'm off to a high school graduation party for my nephew. Little does he know that I have my eye on his Prom Date. From the photos I was sent she will soon be starring in my own version of the "Kentucky Fried Movie"'s 'Catholic Girls in Trouble" skit. Look it up on YouTube.

irishpirate said:

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This links to the clip from "The Kentucky Fried Movie".

Mike Doyle said:

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IrishPirate, I actually agree with just about everything you just wrote (especially the design flaws of the project). I may end up in Uptown today, too.

As for that last part, oh my!

irishpirate said:

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Mike,

I'm all talk and little action. I'm sure my nephew's girlfriend thought it was cute that I road a bike down to the sout' side. I doubt she thought I was cute.

I'm just not as sexy as I thought. I guess I need to give up my trike and shave my back.

Cheryl said:

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You're not going to be able to walk right off the train and into the Target? Then why bother?

irishpirate said:

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Cheryl,

sarcasm is sometimes hard to "confirm" on "the google" as a former Prez might say.

The proposed Target is right next to an EL line. It would have been easy to incorporate a new, much needed, EL stop into the design. As it is customers will have to walk nearly two WHOLE blocks to the Wilson train station. Wilson is arguably the worst EL stop on the northbound portion of the Red Line.

Incorporating an EL stop into the design likely would have made the proposed Target one of the more successful in their corporation. Also an EL stop MIGHT have kept the proposed theaters from pulling out. That is a harder judgment though. How many people who live off the Red Line would consider coming to Uptown for a movie if they could walk directly from the stop into the development? Otherwise they would have to deal with the serious problems of the Wilson EL stop and that gang infested corner.

Mike Doyle said:

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One good thing might have been link a Wilson 'L' overhaul with the Wilson Yard project. Or even with the community college project going on next door (west of the ROW). Missed opportunities, those.

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