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Ald. Patrick D. Thompson Plans To 'Stay And Fight' To Develop The 11th Ward

By Ed Komenda | June 8, 2016 6:00am
 Patrick D. Thompson recently entered his second year as leader of the storied 11th Ward.
Patrick D. Thompson recently entered his second year as leader of the storied 11th Ward.
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DNAinfo/Ed Komenda

BRIDGEPORT — Hanging on a wall in the personal office of Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11th) is a quote from the 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence," the framed slogan says. "Talent will not ... Genius will not ... Education will not ... Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Since entering his second year as leader of one of Chicago’s most storied wards, Thompson thinks about those words a lot.

“It’s something I believe in,” Thompson said. “Persistence is key. That’s with anything we’re doing. You can either fold up the tents and leave — but no one wants to do that — or we’re going to stay and fight and continue to be persistent.”

Before he took over the 11th Ward, Thompson's campaign hinged on bringing life back to Halsted Street — a goal he was prepared to spend years achieving.

During his second year in office, Thompson plans to carry that sentiment forward, focusing on sparking development along a street many consider the heart of the neighborhood.

Empty space

They're easy to spot along Halsted, dotting the street from Pilsen all the way to Canaryville: Vacant storefronts and lots.

To many, they're eyesores. Thompson sees opportunities.

Within the next few weeks, residents might see some activity in the vacant lot next to Deering District police headquarters near the corner of 31st and Halsted.

Though the alderman wouldn’t elaborate on who might develop the dirt patch, he said the project could include a new restaurant and retail space.

“Something that’s going to drive traffic,” Thompson said.

Down the street is another lot next to Potsticker House, one of the neighborhood’s most popular Chinese restaurants. The only way to access the lot now is through the alley behind the restaurant, but that will change soon.

Thompson agreed to allow construction crews to slice away the curb in front of the lot to allow Potsticker patrons easy access to park from Halsted Street.

A few blocks north, on the west side of Halsted near 34th Street, is the former home of Halsted foods, where, within the next year, neighborhood folks could see new life.

“I’m working with that owner on potentially sub-dividing that and doing a restaurant and maybe another retail play,” Thompson said, “but their concern was parking.”

Luckily, there’s a vacant lot next to the Richard J. Daley Library branch — a prime location Thompson wants to lease for off-street parking.

Bringing the neighborhood together

At a recent community meeting, a Bridgeport native who owns property along Halsted asked Thompson what he plans to do along the neighborhood’s busiest street.

“My question was, ‘What are you doing?’” Thompson said. “I think there’s sometimes a disconnect. People aren’t fully understanding about how a development happens.”

In some cases, it’s easy for ward leaders to guide development in their neighborhoods, especially when the city owns the property. That’s the case with the lot near the corner of 31st and Halsted.   

Most often, though, aldermen are at the mercy of property owners who are waiting for developers to knock on their door with a big check to take the property off their hands.

It doesn’t often work that way.

“I meet with brokers and developers almost on a weekly basis,” Thompson said.

The alderman is now developing what he calls the “Halsted Street Summit,” a gathering where business owners, developers and property bosses can brainstorm and learn about what they can do to stoke development in the 11th Ward.

The goal of the summit, slated to happen sometime this summer, is to educate neighborhood folks on the ins-and-outs of development.

We want "to help everyone fully understand what we can do, whether it be on zoning change or on incentives,” Thompson said.

The next four years

Next to the framed quote in Thompson’s office is a painting of a moonlit Willis Tower. In the face of the moon is the profile of Thompson’s grandfather, Richard J. Daley.

A gift from Thompson’s daughter when he ran for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in 2012, the painting includes a 1959 quote from Mayor Daley:

“I’m not the last of the old bosses. I’m the first of the new leaders.”

The quote is another place where Thompson finds inspiration to transform the 11th Ward into a destination.

“If you do your job — and we’re out working every day to provide services to the city and our residents — that’s good government," Thompson said.

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