WEST LOOP — A West Loop community group is calling on the city to halt plans to build a $500,000 decorative gateway for the burgeoning Fulton Market District, saying the money should be spent first on urgent infrastructure projects in the neighborhood.
The Randolph/Fulton Market Association is questioning the priority being given to the gateway, which is set to be constructed on West Fulton Market at North Halsted Street. It would be the first project to be completed as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Fulton Market Innovation District, a $42 million development plan to help shape development in the West Loop.
The plan, announced earlier this year and led by the city's Department of Transportation and Department of Planning and Development, will also spend millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements including sidewalk and road repairs.
Most of those dollars, including money to build a gateway, will come from the Kinzie Industrial Corridor tax increment financing district set up in 1998. As of 2013, the TIF district had a balance of about $70 million.
Critics say there is no timeline for projects like street repairs and or two badly-needed traffic signals at the intersection of Lake and Morgan streets and Fulton and Halsted streets.
"It's completely bewildering as to why a $500,000 gateway needs to take urgent priority over other critical safety and transportation projects," said Roger Romanelli, the executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association.
Romanelli said his association and other community groups had outlined more than 50 other public construction projects in the area that they would like to see completed before a gateway was erected. Romanelli said the community did not support building a "decorative gateway that has no demonstrated economic development impact."
"We're appealing directly to the mayor right now," he said. "Shut it down. Shelve it. Let's go back and address some serious, urgent infrastructure projects."
As it stands now, the city is expected to complete construction of the gateway by December. CDOT will launch a traffic and parking study this fall to identify problems in the area but will not address those problems until next year at the earliest, according to a tentative timeline for the project.
Officials at CDOT did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment about why a gateway was being built first or what progress had been made on any public safety projects in the area.
The gateway is not the only controversial aspect of the Fulton Market Innovation District plan. Portions of the area — bordered loosely by Ogden Avenue and Halsted, Kinzie and Randolph streets — are slated to become a historic district under the plan, which city officials say will help keep historically unique aspects of the neighborhood in the face of a recent development boom.
Many businesses and groups in the area are opposing the city's decision to request the Commission on Chicago Landmarks tag dozens of buildings as historic.
This summer, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) asked the landmarks commission to delay its decision until December so he could have time to gauge what the community wanted.
Burnett did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday about local opposition to the decorative gateway being built. But Burnett did voice support for the structure at a community meeting last month.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: