Friends and Colleagues:
On Monday, I was a guest of Governor Bruce Rauner at the inauguration in Springfield. Many of you may recall that he visited West Rogers Park a month before the election for several hours for meetings with communal leadership and tours of our non-profit organizations. He also visited the abandoned movie theater/car wash at Devon and McCormick and agreed that this eyesore needed to be removed from the heart of our community. Now that he is Governor, I have been in close communication with his senior staff and they have expressed support for our work and commitment to help us build bridges in local units of government. Hopefully this will open additional doors that will enable us to address this problem, and will serve as a boost for many of our other initiatives.
Tuesday was filled with meetings at JUF with Emily Sweet of the Jewish Community Relations Council who we have been collaborating closely with on creating programming across the Jewish and east-Asian communities that call West Rogers Park home. I also met with John Lowenstein to start a dialogue with the Hillel at Loyola University about working on resources for students and faculty in East Rogers Park.
To wrap up the day on Tuesday, I presented to the semester’s first session of the UIC urban planning department’s commercial revitalization graduate seminar . Several of our lay leaders joined me in presenting the background of our neighborhood to the group of students who will be spending tens of hours this semester developing a plan to help us attract new businesses to the Devon and Touhy avenue corridors. Our former consultant, Michael Schubert, opened the door for an introduction at the college of urban planning and I am pleased to report that we have leveraged that relationship to bring more resources to the community.
On Thursday upon our initiative, a meeting was convened at Alderman Silverstein’s office, along with representatives of Agudath Israel, Chicago Rabbinical Council, Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council, to discuss the recent acts of vandalism that took place in West Rogers Park. Subsequent to the threatening graffiti that was smeared on many structures in the community, we collaborated with ADL and JCRC to request the above meeting. With the recent tragedy in Paris, we also discussed the concern of possible local threats relating to the terror attacks in France.
Today we will be meeting at Alderman Silverstein’s office with a developer who has a plan to purchase the abandoned/blighted movie theatre and car wash at Devon and McCormick, and convert that site into a public storage facility. The developer has other facilities which are attractive and well-designed. The facility would require only five parking places, and that would open the possibility of the unused parking lot just behind the existing structures being redeveloped as a park to enhance the bike trail adjacent to it. We hope that our participation will demonstrate community support for the immediate improvement of the site.
To further encourage cleanup of the Devon/McCormick site, this week we sent a letter to the top leadership of the metropolitan water reclamation district signed by 26 rabbis and co-signed by 350 members of the community, inviting them to a meeting on March 10th at 6pm at Congregation B’nei Reuven to explain why the property they control at this site has been allowed to become a symbol of decline at the gateway to our community. We tried over the last six months to arrange a meeting with MWRD officials, to no avail. Now we will schedule a public meeting of our own to which we will invite media, and offer MWRD leaders a platform. If they come we will ask the tough questions and gain media coverage. If they don’t come, that will become a story in itself. It is MWRD policies that have led to the blight that gets worse day after day. We await their response and will continue to mobilize the community in support of our advocacy on this issue which will not stop until something positive is done to resolve this problem.
On Friday I will be continuing our development plan by asking local organizations on our list for financial support for our work. We have made progress in mobilizing our community and with your help we are building a sustainable base to continue our critical work in the community.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful Shabbos.
Executive Director, Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park