By Cloee Cooper
(Featured Image: Photo of Uptown Theater marquee in 2007. Flickr Creative Commons/Michael Lehet)
CHICAGO – The first woman to deliver a baby at Uptown’s Cuneo Hospital was an American Indian woman, said longtime resident Aqueela Ali. Cuneo was widely known for serving the racially diverse population of Uptown, at a time when many hospitals were segregated.
In its most recent incarnation, the hospital was a children’s shelter. But now developers plan to tear down the Columbus-Maryville Children’s Shelter and create high-rise luxury condos, funded in part by $15.8 million in Tax Increment Financing funds.
“Now they want to kick people of color and poor people out of the area and destroy that landmark place, a beautiful architectural structure, to allow this rich man to put a high-rise there,” said Ali.
In June, the city council approved the TIF funds for JDL Development and Harlem Irving Companies. The developers agreed to allocate 5 percent of the 26-story luxury complex to affordable housing and $4.6 million to renovate the nearby Clarendon Park fieldhouse.
TIFs are an urban renewal program designed to incentivize development in blighted areas. Chicago has 131 TIFs which cover vast portions of the city. TIFs have been criticized for funneling public money to private development.
Many residents of Uptown vehemently oppose the use of TIF funds for the condo development on the old Cuneo/ Maryville site. Ald. James Cappleman (46), who serves Uptown, created a zoning committee board of neighborhood organizations, realtors, preservationists and other residents to offer input on the development.
Ali is the president of the resident council at Lakeside Square Apartments, a subsidized housing complex home to 420 families less than a mile away from the Maryville shelter. She and other Lakeside Square Apartments residents tried to participate in Cappleman’s process.
“I asked to be a part of the zoning committee board,” said Ali. “Cappleman and his people didn’t allow me or two of my friends who are all long-time residents in the area, to be on the board. They didn’t even allow us to speak.”
Ali is not the only one feeling left out. Recently two Uptown residents filed an injunction against the city for denying access to public meetings on the redevelopment.
Cappleman voted in favor of the TIF allocation. Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff, said their office worked hard to address neighbors’ concerns.
“We were looking to figure out what the community would like to see in that area,” said Feher. She said many people misunderstand the development, and think it is taking money away from other developments.
“They (JDL & Harlem Irving Cos) are front-loading that money. They are giving a check to that park district. That’s how it’s benefiting the community.”
Marc Kaplan has lived in Uptown for 40 years and serves on the board of Northside Action for Justice. He has been actively campaigning against the redevelopment for the past four years.
Back in 2001, Kaplan advocated in favor of the controversial Wilson Yards TIF which ultimately provided 176 units of affordable housing to senior residents. Wilson Yards was “one of the only times TIFs were used for what they were supposed to be used for,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan doesn’t see any good coming out of public money subsidizing a luxury high-rise in Uptown, however. “In a time when we are looking at a huge budget deficit, to give $15.8 million to a developer for luxury housing is the height of insanity.”
“Homeless vets living under the bridge will not be able to afford even a studio apartment in that building,” Ali added. “They are giving all this money to billionaires when people are suffering right next door.”
Cloee Cooper is a Masters student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a specialization in social justice and investigative reporting. Cloee is an educator, aspiring personal trainer, and aspiring podcast & documentary film producer. Follow Cloee Cooper on Twitter @.