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Red Line Reconstruction: Chinatown Braces for Economic Impact

By Casey Cora | May 21, 2013 1:54pm
 The CTA renovation of the Red Line on the South Side cuts off tourist pipelines into the neighborhood.
Chinatown Impact
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CHINATOWN —  Filled with aisles of Buddha figurines, tea sets, jade flowers and bamboo plants, the Pacific Furniture shop sits just beneath the neighborhood’s iconic gateway.

Owner Cindy Nhan said she’s concerned that the shutdown of the CTA Red Line south branch, which has closed the nearby Chinatown/Cermak station, would have a big impact on the 24-year-old gift shop at 2200 S. Wentworth Ave.

“Of course it will. Everybody’s going to be fighting for parking and parking is more inconvenient,” she said.

While community leaders say most employees of Chinatown businesses live in the neighborhood and don’t require the Red Line to commute to work, there are plenty of people who will be affected by the 5-month-long construction project, namely motorists and tourists.

Yin Kean, the newly-installed director of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said many tourists have traditionally opted for the Red Line as a way to visit the neighborhood, located just a short trip south of the Loop.

“[The Red Line] is more convenient,” she said. “I wish there was some investment in a charter bus, specifically between downtown and Chinatown. That would have been nice.”

Still, those looking to get between the Loop and Chinatown do have a similar option during the construction project — riders can board a shuttle bus at the CTA Roosevelt stop or at the clearly-marked shuttle stop along Wentworth Avenue between Archer Avenue and Cermak Road.

That ride is free. 

Other options include the #62 (Archer) and #24 (Wentworth) buses, both of which will take riders to the Loop but charge regular CTA bus fares.

Tourists like Mike and Kathy Lightcap weren’t aware of the public transit options.

The Asheville, N.C., couple said they boarded a double-decker bus near Millennium Park and decided to take a stroll through the neighborhood.

“We hopped on and hopped off,” Kathy said.

The Chinatown chamber has also pushed the Chicago Water Taxi as an option for commuters. Starting May 28, the taxis will make daily southbound departures to Chinatown from a dock near the Ogilvie Transportation Center beginning at 10 a.m.

Return boat trips to Downtown leave Ping Tom Memorial Park, 300 W. 19th St., beginning at 10:20 a.m.

The Red Line reconstruction is expected to wrap up in October. That means the neighborhood’s rail station will be closed for several major summertime events, including the Dragon Boat Races for Literacy, a new 5K run and a riverside performance from member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Children’s Choir.

Kean, of the Chinatown chamber, said businesses in her group have been cautiously optimistic about the massive construction project.

“One person has called me about a protest. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a positive thing,” she said of the construction. “Yes, it does inconvenience people … but it’s all very positive.”