UPTOWN — Uptown is in the midst of a face-lift funded by millions of development dollars and steered by Ald. James Cappleman (46th) whose supporters say he is giving the community a much-needed makeover — while critics worry a new Uptown will leave the poor on the outside looking in.
Plans for rebranding Uptown include a $200 million renovation of the Wilson Red Line station, a bolstered entertainment district, several streetscape installations and multi-million dollar housing developments, including JDL development’s $230 million plan for luxury housing that calls for $32 million in tax increment finance funds.
“This is not about making Uptown look like Lincoln Park, Lakeview or Edgewater or any other community, this is about helping Uptown be Uptown,” Cappleman told DNAinfo.com Chicago in response to his critics. “It’s my belief that everyone in the 46th Ward and everyone living in Uptown wants to have safety and they want an environment that embraces everyone.”
The comments came earlier this week at the State of Uptown Luncheon, where Cappleman and other officials were upbeat about Uptown’s future, despite recent accusations from activists and low-income residents that the area has been gentrifying at an inhumane pace.
State Sen. Heather Steans said, “There’s very good things happening around here.”
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) called it a time of “a great deal of progress.”
Ald. Ameya Pewar (47th) said, “All of this is going to come and make this area the place to be.”
In March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel designated Uptown and six other Chicago neighborhoods as "Opportunity Areas," for economic development. The city touted $2.9 billion in development dollars ($2.6 billion in private funding and $330 million public funding) and announced an array of community improvement projects in Uptown and across Chicago.
"We're really excited about the investment," Cappleman's chief of staff Tressa Feher said. "It's really going to change the way people look at Uptown."
Uptown resident Jessica Montalvo is a 34-year-old physician who was excited after attending the luncheon.
“It’s certainly a very positive change to hear about more money and more focus going toward making Uptown a destination,” said Montalvo.
Montalvo acknowledged that she is a “part of the new Uptown,” which she described as educated middle class professionals. She understands the demographic is sometimes seen as gentrifying the neighborhood, and that there are some areas of the community that might feel left out of economic development in Uptown.
Montalvo suggested that the Uptown community come together and forge a “multicultural coalition” of stakeholders in the community to make sure all voices are heard, and to help the neighborhood heal from some of the class tension.
Unlike Montalvo, artist, Uptown resident and noted Cappleman critic Jeffrey Littleton is not impressed with the "Opportunity Area" designation, which he considers a mandate from the mayor for Cappleman to gentrify. Littleton, who lives in low-income housing, also said plans to bolster the entertainment district are not being done in an authentic and inclusive way.
“It’s going to be a venue cluster not a cultural district,” he said. “You can’t do it without the people. And you can’t do it just by streetscaping and adding venues. What is there for the poor people?”
Uptown resident Iris DeSalvo, 67, worries about what will happen to the poor living in the community.
"There’s going to be riots. Because not everybody is going to leave so nice and happy," she said.
An advisory committee created by Cappleman voted to compromise the 20 percent affordable housing requirement for residential developments seeking TIF assistance when it came to a $230 million luxury housing project by the lake proposed by JDL Development.
Cappleman has also been criticized for efforts to close the Wilson Men's Hotel, one of the city's last "cubicle hotels," which have been scrutinized for poor living conditions.
Rogers Park resident Adelaide Meyers lived in an single-room occupancy building in Uptown before FLATS Chicago bought the building and tenants had to relocate last year.
She worries about the poor people who might not be able to move like she was.
“Developers are buying a lot of buildings, and there’s going to be a lot of homelessness,” Meyers said. “It does seem like they’re moving a lot of the poor people out. I think that they want to gentrify the neighborhood. But the concern is that there will also be a loss of diversity.”
Erin Ryan, president of Lakeview Action Coalition’s board, said Cappleman, “Needs to understand how big the problem is and how many people there are who care about this.”
“Since Ald. Cappleman has taken office over a thousand units of affordable housing have been lost [in the 46th Ward]," Ryan said. "We’re holding him accountable for that. It’s not just an overnight problem.”
Ron Alfano, 51, said he attends church with Cappleman at Broadway Methodist Church. He said he knows Cappleman as “a nice man,” with “good character,” who is “trying to make a difference.”
Alfano also said, “Change doesn’t happen overnight.”
“It just seems like he’s trying to take on too much,” Alfano said. “It takes a little bit of time to make changes happen. The area is diverse and it needs to be diverse. Whatever issues he has to address, it will take a bit of time, but I think he’s going to do his best.”