The 21st and Damen intersection in Pilsen. Credit: Adam Jones/Flickr

PILSEN — A real estate panel focused on helping developers get a foothold in Pilsen, Logan Square and other gentrifying neighborhoods has sparked anger on social media as well as calls for protests outside the event. 

For $99, the seminar dubbed “Chicago’s Emerging Neighborhoods: The Rise of Pilsen, Uptown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park” looks to bring commercial real estate brokers and developers together for two panel discussions around “development successes” in the aforementioned neighborhoods.

Bisnow, a digital news outlet focused on real estate news, will host the Chicago event at Mural Park, 1901 S. Sangamon St. in Pilsen, at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 12. The news outlet also organizes industry conferences across the country. 

The original marketing material, which has since been altered, advertised that people who paid to come to the panel would learn which neighborhoods are “being targeted” by Chicago’s biggest developers, the “key qualities needed for a development to be considered the crown jewel” in an “emerging neighborhood,” and how to “reposition assets to meet the needs of new tenants” moving into Pilsen.

Credit: Emerging Neighborhoods Event/ Screenshot

As early as last week, the material touted the significance of Pilsen, citing its recent appearance on Forbes’ list of “world’s coolest neighborhoods,” while calling it a popular destination for new tenants, first-time buyers and office tenants looking for a “cooler vibe.”

Credit: Emerging Neighborhoods Event/ Screenshot

Matthew McLean Jr., a partner at Condor Partners who is sponsoring and hosting the event at the developer’s loft-style office property in Pilsen, expressed regret at any harm caused by how the event was marketed. 

“The discussion that we will be having is around responsible investment — development without displacement—and affordable housing,” McLean said. “The people on the panel are on different sides of [the issue], but you can’t have a discussion if you don’t have people on different sides.”

In the original marketing material, no reference to affordable housing was made. 

McLean sees the panel discussion as a way to engage the industry on the “the most embattled and most controversial neighborhoods for our industry,” and how gentrification has impacted these communities. 

“We do love Pilsen, we love the community, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t,” said McLean, whose new commercial development will house 5 Rabbit Cervecería when the building is complete. “I do regret the marketing material.”

Following criticism, McLean worked with Bisnow to change the marketing language to “reflect the discussion” aimed at responsible development that embraces the local community and culture.

Representatives from Bisnow did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A tweet advertising the event. Credit: SIOR Chicago/Twitter

Panel is ‘shameful’ and ‘blatant disrespect,’ neighbors say 

On social media, Pilsen residents criticized the event, calling for a protest during the Dec. 12 event, and boycotting Bisnow. The founder of popular neighborhood Facebook page Pilsen Neighborhood blasted the event in a post to the page’s 30,000 followers. 

Resident Lynda Lopez, who lives at the border of Pilsen and Little Village, called the event a “blatant disrespect” against the community and only perpetuates the distrust between developers and community residents. 

“This is a very disrespectful conversation to have on the backs of people suffering,” said Lopez, who has previously worked with Logan Square Neighborhood Association to fight gentrification and displacement. “The narrative right now is money-hungry developers bringing inaccessible housing and not considering you. This only feeds into that.”

Pilsen Alliance, a social justice group in the neighborhood, denounced the event in a statement issued late last week. 

“This event is shameful and it’s sheer disrespect for it to be happening in Pilsen where residents are struggling to stay in their homes. Residents in Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Uptown have also been facing similar challenges,” Pilsen Alliance leaders wrote. 

The Resurrection Project, a Pilsen-based housing nonprofit that owns several properties in the neighborhood, is also participating in the panel. Veronica Gonzalez, vice president of Real Estate Development for the group, said she accepted Bisnow’s invitation to offer an “alternative” perspective than is usually offered at events for real estate brokers and developers.

“I have an opportunity to tell them, ‘Don’t script the narrative about emerging markets,'” Gonzalez said. “Let’s just be real about who you are. You are seeking out vulnerable populations. That’s why you are here. Because this market is one you can try to exploit and if we are going to talk about community benefits, let’s be real clear about what that looks like.”

In her work with Resurrection Project Gonzalez focuses on finding ways to help finance affordable housing in Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards and Melrose Park for residents making between $17,000 and $35,000. 

The Resurrection Project currently operates 330 affordable housing units across its Pilsen properties. Those buildings include: Casa Morelos, 2015 S. Morgan St.; Casa Guanajuato, 1313 W. 19th St.; Casa Guerrero, 963 W. Cullerton St., and Casa Monterrey, 967 W. 19th St.

The group also plans to develop a 42-unit affordable housing complex at St. Vitus Church. 

While she aims to present her perspective working toward bringing more affordable housing for low-income residents in Pilsen, Gonzalez also sees the panel as an opportunity to “bridge the divide” with developers who are taking a genuine interest in the community.

“We need to find some common ground,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not playing a one-on-one basketball game here. It’s five of them against one of me. That’s the reality of what’s happening in Pilsen. I wish there were other affordable housing developers that are helping us solve these problems but right now [Resurrection Project] seems to be the only one.”

If the community keeps fighting developers “from the outside,” they won’t be able to stave off market forces, she said. 

“That’s not the reality,” Gonzalez said. 

A list of speakers participating in the first Bisnow panel. Credit: Bisnow
A list of speakers participating in the second Bisnow panel. Credit: Bisnow

Exodus of Latino families from Pilsen and Logan Square

In the last decade, Pilsen and Logan Square have undergone dramatic changes, and longtime residents have fought to stay in their homes — or are cashing out and moving away.

Logan Square has lost more Latino residents than any other Chicago community in recent years, and Pilsen, has also seen an exodus of Latinos as the area gets whiter. 

In a 2016 study, University of Illinois at Chicago professor John Betancur found that while Pilsen remains majority Hispanic, more than 10,300 Hispanic residents left the neighborhood between 2000 and 2010, a 26 percent drop.

In both neighborhoods, developers and speculators continue to scoop up old properties and redevelop them into luxury housing.

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Pilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.orgnnPilsen, Little Village and West Loop Twitter @MauricioPena

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