WEST LOOP — A controversial new gateway marking the entrance of the booming Fulton Market District has become the latest campaign issue in the 27th Ward race.
Candidate Gabe Beukinga, set to square off against longtime Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., said this week that the gateway is "as idiotic as Burnett is."
"Unlike Alderman Burnett, I will not waste taxpayer's money," Beukinga said. "This is a classic example of wasteful spending and not representing the community's needs."
Burnett said city officials see the gateway as a symbol of the progress being made to develop a changing Fulton Market.
"[The city] sees it as a symbol to let people know, 'We're over here and we're doing things over here,' " Burnett said of the gateway.
The $500,000 decorative gateway, at Fulton Street near Halsted Street, was installed with tax increment financing funds from the Kinzie Industrial Corridor last week.
Responding to the criticism, Burnett said that the gateway is just part of a much larger picture. The gateway is 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 calls for millions of dollars to be spent on infrastructure improvements including sidewalk and road repairs in the area.
"This is my thing - if we're going to allow the city to spend millions in streets and sidewalks in the area, I don't know what the big deal is," Burnett said. "The gateway don't hurt anybody. It's an identifier in the community and I'm fine with it."
The $42 million will be spent on other infrastructure improvements, too, Burnett said, including a much-needed stoplight near the gateway at Fulton and Halsted. The alderman said the stoplight will "definitely" be installed this year.
"The sign is one thing. If (the city) wants to give us all of these improvements and put up a sign? Then Hallelujah, put it up there," Burnett said.
Besides the cost, Beukinga said residents don't like the gateway's design.
Burnett said that the design was picked after a charette process that was open to the public.
As part of the Fulton Market Innovation District development plan, the city's plan to create a historic district along Fulton and Randolph. If approved, the designation would tag as many as 125 area properties as landmarks, limiting future development opportunities at the sites.
Burnett said this week that he expects the historic district plan to come up for a vote in March of April.
The election is Feb. 24.