UPTOWN — The new director of Uptown's chamber of commerce said one of the job's biggest draws was the chance to serve the community he considers home.
Business Partners, the Chamber for Uptown, announced earlier this month that Keith McCormick was stepping down as director of cultural programs for the Chicago Children's Museum and coming to the chamber to replace former director Susan Swanson.
Swanson resigned in August because of health-related reasons after less than a month in office.
McCormick, 43, was born in Ravenswood, just west of Uptown, but moved back and forth between the two North Side neighborhoods during his childhood, he said.
"Borders don't mean much when you're a kid, McCormick said, explaining that he wasn't aware of a line between the neighborhoods until he got older.
His mother raised him and his younger brother alone, supporting them by working as a secretary for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.
McCormick said that the thing that "really sold" him on taking the chamber job "was that it was in Uptown."
"[The position] was an opportunity for me to apply all of my background, all of my skills, all of my experience in a community that feels like home to me," McCormick said.
He remembers in the 70s going to play old school games like Pac-Man and Centipede at an arcade on West Wilson Avenue, and as a teenager he attended shows at the Aragon Ballroom and Riviera Theatre.
McCormick attended McPherson Elementary School and later graduated from Amundsen High School, both in Ravenswood. He now lives in West Ridge with his 12-year-old son Jake, 11-month-old daughter Olivia and wife Crystal.
McCormick, who has a degree in advertising and graphic design from the American Academy of Art, worked in the advertising industry for a few years after college before he realized it wasn't his calling.
"I was really more passionate about impacting children, impacting families, doing something that was more meaningful," he said.
He spent a few years in the early 90s in social services working as a case manager for troubled families, and in 1997 was hired as deputy director of City Year, an Americorps national youth service organization. About six years later he landed at the Children's Museum — and stayed there for 10 years before joining the chamber.
McCormick comes to Uptown at a time of renewed buzz over the entertainment district, thanks in large part to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pre-election stated interest in bolstering the district, and interest from developers, community groups, business owners and Ald. James Cappleman (46th).
He said the entertainment district vision "has become super popular as far as building excitement around Uptown." But having only been in the post since only earlier this month, he said he's still getting a grasp on what the exact vision is.
"There are a lot of people who are invested in this idea — not financially, yet — but I think a lot of people are emotionally invested in this idea," he said, adding that more potential business partners "are expressing interest in coming to this area."
McCormick is the chamber's third director since last December, when Paula Barrington stepped down. He acknowledged that the high turnover could pose an obstacle for the chamber, and said some businesses "might not have had a face-to-face meeting with a director in some months."
"Sometimes when you have changes in leadership the transition is not so smooth. So far it's been pretty smooth. I'm sure we're going to run into some things but my primary objective is to first reconnect with our member base — go out to those businesses and introduce ourselves," he said.