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The Wilson Underline Seems Super Cool, But Who's Paying For It?

 Several community groups have proposed a plan to turn the space into a
Several community groups have proposed a plan to turn the space into a "vibrant" public space.
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The Wilson "L" Public Space Committee

UPTOWN — The Wilson Underline Project seems to have everything — places to chill, places for local art, cool lights and greenery.

And the project, which has been debated for about three years, is homegrown by local professionals — architect Julianne Scherer and landscaper designer Brett Weidl.

"We think of this station as an epicenter. This is going to be a hub of activity, and we can make it better than it is," Scherer, co-chairwoman of the Wilson Underline Project, said at a meeting about the project Tuesday. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a catalyst of change."

The Wilson "L" Public Space Committee effort aims to change the plans for what will go under Wilson Red LIne station once its renovation is complete.

Though original plans call for fenced-in parking lots under the station, underline project members want to turn some of that land into "people space" to be enjoyed by all residents.The project still would include the contractually obligated number of parking spaces, organizers said.

For the last year, the group has worked with recommendations from the Metropolitan Planning Council and TOD Design Studio "to create a vibrant, safe, lively, pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented public space" as opposed to "a fenced-in parking lot."

To determine what the community wanted, the committee even hired professionals to create a survey, which solidified the view the community preferred public space over a parking lot (96 percent of people preferred the project over a parking lot). For full results of the survey click here.

Those survey results found that 79 percent of respondents said the "plan brings people together and promotes community interaction," and 90 percent said the plan "makes them feel safer."

The top desired amenities were landscaping, a farmers market, lights and public art.

"I think it's an amazing, fabulous space that really utilizes the potential here. Having it all as fenced-in parking seems like the lowest common denominator," said Dan Miller, whose favorite feature was a proposed area for food trucks to set up.

So what's the problem?

In March, the CTA said it was working with Uptown United, a partner with the Wilson Underline Committee, on several ideas for redevelopment and ways to incorporate key neighborhood suggestions into the station.

"We have had multiple conversations with community groups, and this is the latest of many of proposals that Uptown United has submitted. All input has been and will continue to be considered as part of the redevelopment process. While redevelopment will eventually include parking spaces for nearby businesses, community input like Uptown’s proposals are also being considered as part of transit-oriented development," CTA spokesman Jeffrey Tolman said in March.

Tolman on Wednesday said there's been no updates on the project from the CTA's standpoint, and the agency will continue to consider all input from the community.

"When CTA proposes any major construction project, we hold public meetings to hear from the community. Prior to the start of the Wilson Reconstruction Project, the public’s input was for more parking and a safe and secure area. In addition, the proposal recently developed by Uptown United was not factored into the project budget," said Tolman.

The project would cost about $2 million, Scherer said.

"We've done everything that's been asked of us," now we need support from politicians and the CTA, Scherer said at the meeting attended by about 40 residents, including Ald. James Cappleman (46th).

"The only way to do this is have public officials' support," she said.

Cappleman, who described his role at the meeting as "to observe and learn from the community," threw his support behind the project, adding it would involve working with City Colleges of Chicago, the CTA and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

"You have my full support. I want to make this happen," Cappleman said. " It's going to be a very complicated project. There's a lot of moving wheels."

For funding, he said he would work with Uptown United to get some grants. Unfortunately, the project, which falls into the Wilson Yard tax increment financing district, will not be able to use TIF funds, he said.

The 2014 annual report on the Wilson Yard TIF, the last one available, showed the TIF had a balance of $16,050,179.

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