The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Bye 'Sad' Trees: Longtime Lakeview Promoters Booted After Decades Of Weird

By Ariel Cheung | November 23, 2016 8:54am
 Central Lakeview Merchants Association lined Lakeview streets with Christmas trees in 2013. Here, trees are tied to poles near the Belmont
Central Lakeview Merchants Association lined Lakeview streets with Christmas trees in 2013. Here, trees are tied to poles near the Belmont "L" stop.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Say goodbye to dirty streets and bedraggled pine trees, central Lakeview — so says the promise of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, which officials installed Friday to replace Chicago View in handling the neighborhood's $800,000 property tax budget for 2017.

Chicago View, formerly the Central Lakeview Merchants Association, had managed the special service area that includes Wrigleyville and the Belmont "L" station for decades, since its inception.

Chicago View executive director Gus Isacson tried to reassure officials in a pitch video presented last week, outlining the group's past successes reinvesting property tax revenue to promote the neighborhood.

"Like a Las Vegas prostitute, we're a sure bet on performance," Isacson said, citing awards for snow removal and neighborhood engagement and city-designated grants.

But Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and city officials apparently disagreed, wresting control of the SSA from Chicago View and handing it to the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce for 2017.

Chicago View SSA #17 from Chicago View on Vimeo.

It's been a weird ride for members of the special service area, who have been subject to bizarre Photoshop projects and the infamous Christmas tree fiasco of '13.

RELATED: 'Sad' Trees, Bearded Baby, Paper Planes Made Of Money: Lakeview's Wacky SSA

Chicago View's performance is something neighbors and businesses have groused about for years, said Chris Jessup, Tunney's communications director.

"I spent a lot of time talking to businesses in this SSA about the services they are not receiving," Jessup said. "This is a huge deal."

Chicago View, which describes itself as a marketing organization, has come under fire repeatedly in recent years, facing accusations of poorly executed promotions and unresponsive management.

Isacson did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Central Lakeview special service area (marked in bright blue) stretches along Clark Street from Grace to Belmont, Sheffield Avenue from Waveland to Diversey and Belmont from Racine to Clark. [Provided/Department of Planning and Development]

Changes will be apparent early on in 2017, pledged Maureen Martino, executive director of Lakeview East, who said crime reduction and cosmetic improvements would be top priorities in the immediate future.

Targeting crime

The Belmont "L" station has been considered a hotbed for crime in the neighborhood for years. Lakeview East hopes to fix that.

"The entry and exit to our community, mainly, is the 'L' station," Martino told DNAinfo Tuesday. "And we can't wait to get our hands into bringing a security plan to fruition."

"That's No. 1 on our plate," she added.

While Martino declined to provide exact budget numbers, she said the chamber's proposal included a six-figure sum for security patrols.

Major crime in Lakeview spiked sharply this year, with projections in August reflecting a 12 percent increase compared to 2015.

In 2015, Chicago View spent about 1 percent of its $777,000 SSA budget on safety programs, with all but $900 of the $12,548 spent on equipment like security cameras and program costs.

"Mostly [chambers] say, 'Too bad, you're on your own' for Clark Street, Belmont, that area," former district Capt. Bill Looney said in late 2015.

Lakeview East spent four times that on safety, with $40,476 allotted for security patrols — a new expenditure set up in response to neighbors' concerns about rising crime in Lakeview.

In fact, if other chambers could pay for security near the Belmont "L," "we would have done it a long time ago," Martino said. "The central [Lakeview] folks didn't have any security, which kind of left us in the hole for a robust security plan where we can actually work together."

Tunney and the Town Hall District urged the four Lakeview chambers to spend more on private security last year after a series of robberies and burglaries set neighbors on edge.

"Unfortunately, this hasn't been happening in [Central Lakeview] SSA 17," Jessup said. "That's one reason the city wanted to revisit, frankly, how they spend taxpayer money."

Jessup voiced enthusiasm for the four chambers' security pitches for Central Lakeview, which he said were "proposed in a way I don't think this community has seen."

RELATED: Police, CTA Bring In The Dogs As Crime At Belmont "L" Station Spikes

Chicago View did plan to finance CTA security dogs or police foot patrols in 2017, director of business relations Jeff Briggs said in the group's proposal video.

Cleaning up the streets

Before giving their presentation, Martino and Lakeview East staff took a walk through Central Lakeview to see what needed to be done.

"One major thing was the fact that it was not really a clean environment a lot of times," Martino said. "There was so much gum, and it doesn't look attractive."

And while Chicago View did present plans for semi-annual power washing, "it will take time to get the sidewalks halfway decent," Martino said.

Lakeview East spent an estimated $25,000 on power washing this year, while Northalsted allotted $35,000, plus another $48,000 for litter and graffiti removal. Lakeview East has its own maintenance crew that removes graffiti and beautifies the street on a daily basis, Martino said.

Chicago View planned to spend $98,000 on street cleaning in 2016, which includes street sweeping after events like Chicago Cubs games and the Twelve Bars of Christmas bar crawl.

Working together for a better Lakeview

Martino sees the change as an opportunity for a more unified Lakeview business community, she said. 

Like Lakeview East's work with the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce to promote the Belmont Theater District, there are scads of opportunities to partner with the other SSA managers.

With hundreds of restaurants and businesses in the neighborhood of 90,000 people, a Lakeview-wide dining event is one idea Martino said has been tossed around several times. Working together on a cohesive security plan is another.

"It could be very difficult to get other organizations to see the value of why we're creating this brand of culture," Martino said. "This can be a very transient neighborhood, sometimes, and we think people must know this is here, but that's not always the case."

While likely years away, Martino said she envisions one day having a central visitors center for the four Lakeview SSAs, promoting tourism throughout the neighborhood as it continues to flourish.

"We'd be keeping the same brands of what we've created, but bringing more to our businesses by expanding our reach for them," she said. "I think it's going to be a new day in Lakeview."

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.