GOOSE ISLAND — Aldermen Michele Smith (43rd) and Brian Hopkins (2nd) teamed up Tuesday to demand park space be a part of the modernization plan for the North Branch Industrial Corridor.
Smith has already identified the North Branch Corridor Modernization Plan, to be completed early next year, as a battleground for her proposal to potentially put a 10-acre park in the Finkl Steel development, which sits in Hopkins' ward toward the north end of the corridor.
The full length of the corridor basically runs on a diagonal along the Chicago River from Chicago Avenue to Fullerton Avenue, also allowing for an additional half-mile "buffer" around it.
Without committing to Smith's park plan, Hopkins made a clear plea at a public meeting on the North Branch Corridor Tuesday night for the parks the community "wants, needs, deserves and is entitled to."
Calling the desires of area residents "unmistakable," Hopkins said, "We know that the community needs additional recreational opportunities. We're going to insist on that."
Hopkins cited Focal Point at 31st Street and Kedzie Avenue on the Southwest Side as an example, as it accommodated a full-scale soccer field into the development.
Applauding Hopkins' stand, Smith said, "We are very aligned on some of the key issues here."
Smith, however, identified the key point as: "Will the city lead on this issue?" She cited the commitment to an open lakefront of a century ago and pointed to Grant Park as the result.
"We should be fighting for all the open space this community needs," Smith said.
Sheffield Neighbors Association Vice President Ted Wrobleski led several members of the audience of more than 100 people in calling for parks to have a part in the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan.
Micheline Pergande of the RANCH Triangle Association expressed disappointment over the lack of concrete proposals for parks in the presentation made Tuesday night by the city's Department of Planning and Development.
"We'd like to see that at the next session," she added.
Tuesday's public meeting tended to focus on economic factors, such as the area's history in manufacturing and its present as a technology hub, including UI Labs, 1415 N. Cherry Ave., which played host to Tuesday's meeting on Goose Island. It also focused on the area's transportation needs, its "character" and only then open space.
Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner in the Department of Planning and Development, said the city is committed to "more high-quality open space," adding the topic would be more prominent at another public meeting set for next month as the department works toward drafting a "framework" document in February.
Gorski did point to proposals to create eco-parks along the North Branch Canal, which runs east of Goose Island, and the turning basin at the north end of the island, commonly seen by drivers on North Avenue. She also pointed to the proposed extension of The 606 bike and pedestrian trail.
That proposal, however, was also aimed at improving transportation, as it would extend The 606 across the river with a detour into a hairpin turn near the Clybourn station on the Metra rail line. That would be combined with a so-called transitway running from Finkl Steel to the Ogilvie Station and Union Station Downtown to make it easier for workers to get to and from jobs to be found in the North Branch corridor.
"I just think that's wrong," countered Lincoln Park resident Allan Mellis. He argued that improved transportation should be aimed not at suburban commuters, but to "service the people in the City of Chicago who need jobs" on the South and West sides.
Hopkins agreed with that in principle, saying, "I was elected by the residents of the 2nd Ward, not the residents of Schaumburg." But he also cited how reverse commuting was increasing, adding, "I think it's going to serve our needs in Chicago as well."
Gorski emphasized that the modernization plan was a "framework," and that at this point there were no concrete proposals, much less how to pay for them.
Smith and Hopkins, however, have both stressed how the modernization plan will dictate terms on future development. And Hopkins said Tuesday that it is never too early to start thinking of funding, especially given the uncertainty of what kind of federal dollars the city will be receiving under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
"The money will need to be fought for," Hopkins said, adding that the thought of how much Chicago stands to lose in the shift from President Barack Obama to Trump is "keeping me up at night."
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