Photos from the July "community unity day" held in the plaza at 62nd Street and Ingleside Avenue by Woodlawn residents and the neighborhood's chamber of commerce. Credit: Provided/Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce

WOODLAWN — Plans to renovate a Woodlawn plaza will continue to be fleshed out as a small group of neighbors demanded more meetings around the issue, despite transportation officials’ “tight” timeline to spend a federal grant.

Woodlawn residents pushed city officials to gather more community input on renovations to the plaza at 62nd Street and Ingleside Avenue at a meeting Tuesday evening at Woodlawn Station, 6144 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

The Chicago Department of Transportation will spend up to $450,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for infrastructure improvements to the plaza, like replacing pavement and guardrails on nearby cul-de-sacs; power-washing concrete; and installing bike racks, trash cans and furniture.

Tuesday’s meeting was expected to finalize the community’s desires for the renovations. But the meeting ended without a clear path forward after several neighbors peppered local leaders with questions and frustrations over the city’s timeline.

An aerial view of the plaza at 62nd Street and Ingleside Avenue which is set to be renovated by the Chicago Department of Transportation through a federal grant. The red and blue painted areas were part of a prior renovation paid for by a 2021 Chicago Alfresco grant and completed by the Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce. Credit: Google Maps

Some residents questioned why the city was in such a rush to decide on a plan, despite receiving funding for it more than a year ago. Others pushed to expand the project beyond its initial scope and add art installations or more trees to the area.

In response, officials agreed to host another meeting within the next two weeks, Loren Williams, executive director of the Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce, told Block Club Wednesday. A date has yet to be finalized.

“I’m for as many meetings as are necessary for residents to feel like they have been included in this process with [the transportation department] expanding this public way,” Williams said.

Neighbors who attend the next meeting should come prepared with a set of “concrete” things they do or do not want to see in the space, Williams said.

The timeline for securing contractors and starting construction is “tight,” as the plaza must be renovated by the end of September 2024 or grant funding will be lost, CDOT planner Vanessa Irizarry said Tuesday.

But by holding another meeting in the next couple weeks, the city doesn’t risk the need to scale back the renovation project, department spokesperson Erica Schroeder said.

Though Williams supports holding another meeting, hundreds of people were alerted to this week’s meeting through the city’s, the Woodlawn chamber’s and Ald. Jeanette Taylor’s (20th) networks, Williams told the crowd of about 15 attendees Tuesday.

The chamber received a $250,000 Chicago Alfresco grant in 2021 to renovate the “underutilized” plaza at 62nd and Ingleside with a stage, new furniture and lighting, concrete barriers and other improvements.

Many neighbors complained about the plaza lying dormant before the Alfresco grant project, Williams said. Neighbors have since held “community unity days,” yoga sessions, picnics and other informal hangouts in the space, she said.

The Alfresco project is separate from the transportation department’s planned renovations. The new project will focus on areas of the plaza north and south of the Alfresco installation, and improvements made through the Alfresco program will not be affected.

The plaza renovations are necessary, as “spaces we normally use are now being taken up” due to the Obama Presidential Center, Taylor said Tuesday.

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