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Departing Chamber Chief Laying Groundwork for Special Service Area

By Patty Wetli | December 18, 2012 11:23am
 Liz Griffiths is stepping down as the head of the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce, but will shepherd APCC's SSA application.
Liz Griffiths is stepping down as the head of the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce, but will shepherd APCC's SSA application.
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Facebook/Albany Park Chamber of Commerce

ALBANY PARK — The Albany Park Chamber of Commerce is preparing to create a Special Service Area (SSA) as part of its efforts to boost economic development in the neighborhood.

SSAs collect taxes from specific property owners to fund communal services such as holiday decorations and snow removal.

Liz Griffiths, who's stepping down Friday after eight years at the Chamber's helm, will continue to consult with APCC as she shepherds the organization through the SSA application process, which is on track to take effect in 2014.

In recent years, Griffiths, a staff of one, has recruited volunteers to fill planters and clean sidewalks, but said those grassroots undertakings have become unsustainable.

"If you want this neighborhood to grow and be lifted up, this [the SSA] is how it's going to happen," she said.

She's currently in the process of recruiting an SSA board of commissioners and scheduling community meetings to obtain public feedback on the proposal. (SSA guidelines mandate a minimum of two meetings.)

SSAs tax all property owners on the area's designated streets —  residential as well as commercial. The boundaries of APCC's proposal are still in flux, but stretches of Lawrence and Montrose avenues between Kedzie and Central Park avenues are likely to be included.

"Some [owners] will be dismayed, some will be upset, some will be excited," Griffiths predicted.

Since its formation in 1927, APCC, which falls under the umbrella of the North River Commission, has been charged with supporting, promoting and marketing a community that defies easy categorization, in part due to an ever-evolving influx of immigrants.

Albany Park "was mostly Jewish for 50 years," said Griffiths. The 1980s brought a flood of Koreans and "as people gain wealth, they move to the suburbs. Then comes the next wave."

Of late, artists have been drawn to the neighborhood, attracted by low rents, while businesess like Frankenstone Art Center and an outpost of Lake View Art Supply have set up shop on Foster Avenue.

"It's the same trend that happened in Wicker Park and Pilsen," she said.

The challenge for APCC is how best to embrace these new neighbors and encourage development without leaving long-time residents behind.

"We have renters who have been here for 20 years. What we don't like seeing is when people are forced out," said Griffiths. "We don't want businesses and residents to get priced out."

Another priority for Griffiths' eventual successor will be selling the neighborhood to Chicagoans as a destination for dining, shopping and other activities.

"Part of what I think our role is moving forward is making sure people know about us," she said.

The neighborhood's persistent gang issues too often raise awareness of Albany Park in the context of criminal activity.

"There's gangs here, there are," said Griffiths.

For its part, the Chamber works to counter gang recruitment by supporting after school programming that keeps youth off the streets and engaged in positive activities. The SSA will also play a role in the safety of the community.

Said Griffiths, "It's about making sure that the neighborhood looks like it's clean, looks like it's watched."