Emanuel moves to shed ‘Mayor 1%’ label with neighborhood development

on Jun8

7 June 2017 | 8:56 pm

Rahm Emanuel on Thursday will take the first concrete steps to shed his image as “Mayor 1 percent” whose downtown-centric development has left impoverished Chicago neighborhoods behind.

The booming Neighborhood Opportunities Fund, composed of contributions from developers allowed to build bigger and taller projects in a broader downtown area, will dole out its first, $3.2 million in grants to 32 organizations.

Three more neighborhoods — Irving Park, West Ridge and Little Italy — will also get new branch libraries designed by “renowned architects” that will include housing for either veterans or senior citizens.

Emanuel made those announcements Wednesday as he introduced his Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman before Reifman’s luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago.

“As there is growth in our Central Business District, it becomes the seed capital for restaurants, grocery stores, cultural institutions that make up and are landmarks in our neighborhood economy—and you’ll see the first down payment on that,” Emanuel said.

The mayor joked that Reifman was allowed to speak “on work release,” only after making extraordinary progress to turn “major parcels that have all been dormant for years, what I would call a drain on the city rather than a driver of job growth and economic development” into job centers and revenue generators for the city.

“Michael Reese, Finkl Steel, the 60 acres on Roosevelt Road, Children’s Memorial Hospital and the Post Office — are all now moving in ways we couldn’t imagine,” the mayor said.

Emanuel then ceded the microphone to the fast-talking Reifman, who took his audience through a dizzying, 45-minute recitation of all of the development going on in Chicago.

“All of the projects that we’re seeing come in right now have been generating [money] for the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. And we have seen more than a dozen projects since this was adopted a year ago with over $1.4 billion of value come through,” Reifman said.

“When I was here last year, I estimated that we would get about $10 million-a-year. One year later, we are already [on pace] for $30 million.”

Chicago aldermen have likened the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to an Emanuel “slush fund” with politics determining who gets “gap financing for key investments in struggling commercial corridors.” They have bemoaned the fact that the City Council has no control over grants of less than $250,000.

David Reifman, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, spoke at the City Club of Chicago luncheon. | Rich Hein/ Sun-Times

On Wednesday, Reifman maintained that politics played no role in the decision-making.

“It’s done by reference to criteria that are in the ordinance, run by members of the advisory board, which are largely the same people who look at new-market tax credits and then awarded based on those things: catalytic impact, financial viability, impact in the neighborhood, expand small business. Those types of things. Those are how the first winners were chosen,” Reifman said.

Last year, Emanuel blamed his dismal showing among African-American voters in a New York Times poll on “40 years” of disinvestment on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

The share-the-wealth program was just one of several steps the mayor has taken to try and reverse that trend and win back support from black voters who believe their unsafe neighborhoods have been left behind.

So was the creation of a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area and the hiring of former Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp as Chicago’s $185,000-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer.

On Wednesday, Zopp was in the audience to hear Reifman’s City Club speech.

“There is tremendous development going on in the city and a real focus on taking the benefits of that development and making sure that we’re spreading into neighborhoods that have been traditionally under-invested in,” Zopp said. “The businesses that are gonna get money [from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund] are really gonna become engines at that neighborhood level for further development and growth. We’re very excited about it.”

Zopp was asked why Emanuel waited until a second term to address the desperate need to rebuild Chicago’s impoverished and long-neglected neighborhoods.

“In the first term, the mayor was very focused on strengthening the city’s finances, which you had to do to get that growth at the downtown level,” Zopp said.

“This is an evolution of a focus that has been part of the mayor’s strategy from the very beginning. You’re really seeing it come to life now.”

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