ENGLEWOOD — Some of Cecile DeMello’s neighbors don’t remember the 63rd and Racine Green Line stop.
The station closed permanently in the dead of winter nearly 30 years ago, despite cries from neighbors and community activists. Nearby businesses closed and neighborhood investment stalled in the years since.
Community organizers led by DeMello’s nonprofit, Teamwork Englewood, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, E.G. Woode and the Resident Association of Greater Englewood for years have pushed to reopen the station, a key part of their strategy to revitalize the area connecting Englewood and West Englewood.
Now, 16th Ward voters will vote on a referendum in February’s election that could give the effort its biggest boost yet. The organizers collected 1,000 signatures to add the advisory question to the ballot.
Though the referendum is not binding, CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr said in a Sun-Times op-ed the agency and city leaders “are fully committed to pursuing a reopened Racine Green Line station and making it a vital component of the community’s revitalization.”
An online petition supporting the reopened station has more than 600 signatures.
“The signatures are proof of the overwhelming support we’ve received from the 16th Ward to reopen the Green Line station,” DeMello said. “Elected officials can see clearly that this is important to the residents, and the residents want to see it get done.”
‘This Is Something They Fought For Years Before Us’
Asiaha Butler, founder of the Residents Association of Greater Englewood, is tired of answering why the Racine Green Line station needs to be reopened, she said. Instead, people should question why it was closed, she said.
The station was only supposed to go on a two-year hiatus when it went off line in January 1994. A $350 million CTA rehabilitation project closed three Englewood stations: Halsted, Ashland, and Racine. When the Green Line started running again in 1996, six West and South Side stations stayed closed, including Racine.
A tense back-and-forth ensued among Englewood community organizers, Bishop Arthur Brazier, head of Apostolic Church of God, Leon Finney of The Woodlawn Organization and CTA leaders. The Woodlawn leaders wanted their station permanently dismantled, citing potential violence. Englewood leaders wanted transit equity and access to a train station in a busy stretch in the community.
The deal was sealed in 1996 when former 20th Ward Ald. Arenda Troutman, who represented both Englewood and Woodlawn, penned a letter to then-CTA president Robert Belcaster supporting the demolition of the 63rd Street line east of Cottage Grove.
The Racine Station was rescued from demolition status only because it became an “endangered” Landmarks Illinois location in 1996, certifying it for the National Register of Historic Places. A resident hasn’t passed through the train’s turnstiles since.
Most people Butler has spoken with don’t know why the station closed, instead relying on “street rumors” and the urban legends that frequently get passed around the neighborhood, she said. Englewood’s elders remember what once was, she said.
“When we talk about it at meetings or events, elders who know Englewood far too well are proud to see efforts moving forward,” Butler said. “Everyone is supportive. This is something they fought for years before us.”
Transit inequity is rampant across the South Side, DeMello said. The organizer points to Far South Side extension of the Red Line, a decades-old proposal slowly moving forward after years of false starts and broken pledges.
Some point to Englewood’s dwindling population as proof the station should not reopen, DeMello said. But that ignores decades of divestment and public policy which drove down population in the first place.
“Black people in Englewood, Roseland and other struggling South Side communities did not deserve the continued disinvestment that we saw hurt them, and to continue to use that narrative is extremely problematic,” DeMello said. “We can point to decades of disinvestment in CTA infrastructure, and I’m tired of being told it’s a [population] density issue when decades ago it wasn’t.”
Restoring a critical city service like a Green Line station would capitalize on a boon of new projects sprouting up in Englewood, organizers said.
The Go Green Community Fresh Market, a nearly $5 million grocery store, opened this year at 1207 W. 63rd St., bringing fresh, affordable options to the community.
E.G. Woode, a collective of architects, designers, and entrepreneurs, opened a 4,000-square-foot retail space at 1122 W. 63rd St. in August, giving entrepreneurs of color a space to do business. They’ll soon open a $5.3 million restaurant hub minutes away.
Local officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for Englewood Connect, a culinary hub and community “living room,” in September. The $14 million development will repurpose a long-vacant firehouse. Steps away, Thrive Englewood, a multi-million dollar project, will bring affordable housing and retail space to 63rd and Halsted — next to a Green Line stop.
“With the transit-oriented developments coming to Englewood, we want to make sure that this initiative doesn’t get missed,” Butler said. “I think our city is capable of finding the dollars necessary to do what’s right for the community and what the community wants. They find resources for everything else, we can be creative.”
Alds. Stephanie Coleman (16th), David Moore (17th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th), among the five City Council members representing Englewood, have supported organizers’ efforts around the Green Line station, DeMello said.
Coleman, whose ward includes the site of the closed station, said she placed petitions at her community events to collect signatures and helped advise the group on how to structure the referendum. She also said she’s pushing federal, state and city officials to back the effort, as well.
Reopening the station could cost around $75 million but it will be up to CTA leaders to finalize a prize tag, Coleman said. Carter said in the Sun-Times op-ed the agency supported former Rep. Bobby Rush’s effort to secure $2 million in federal funding to help plan and design a reopened station.
Agency leaders are “working very closely with local and federal officials to identify funding to advance planning for a reopened Racine Green Line station,” Carter wrote.
What’s important is elected officials at all levels rise to meet the occasion once the scope and cost of the work becomes clear, Coleman said.
“We’d like to see the stop opened sooner rather than later, but we understand that it’s been nearly 30 years since the stop closed, so it won’t happen overnight,” Coleman said. “But 63rd and Racine is a transit-oriented area, and we must have access to transportation. We deserve to have access to this neighborhood where people work, live and play.”
The Go Green On Racine team received the signatures they needed, but their work isn’t stopping, DeMello said.
Neighbors have long asked for a train stop between Halsted and Ashland to get them around the city, DeMello said. By the 40th anniversary of the Racine stop closing, they hope to have it reopened again, she said.
“We will continue to engage with residents before February 28,” DeMello said. “After that, it’ll be time for us as a community to start asking the question of when this can happen.”
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