SOUTH CHICAGO — South Chicago neighbors and the former alderman packed a public meeting Thursday to criticize Ald. Peter Chico’s (10th) proposal to “possibly” oust the organization that oversees the taxing district to improve Commercial Avenue.
The special service area is the taxing district that funds beautification, security and other services and programs along key commercial strips in the city. The South Chicago taxing district covers Commercial Avenue between 87th Street and South Chicago Avenue and 92nd Street between South Chicago and Harbor avenues.
The city contracts with nonprofit organizations to manage those districts, and they are overseen by commissioners appointed by the mayor. The city’s Department of Planning of Development supervises the agreements.
South Chicago Parents and Friends, Inc. has managed the local taxing district since 2017, city records show.
Chico, elected to office this year, told neighbors he wanted to “evaluate things and [think] about things outside the box” in potentially replacing the group.
“I called the commissioners a couple days ago and shared [that I’m] looking at the possibility of replacing the fiscal agent,” Chico told dozens of attendees Wednesday at the Salud Center, 3039 E. 91st St. “It’s not lost on me, the importance of bringing development here, of getting our folks in South Chicago trained up for the jobs. [The industrial commission] has those capabilities.”
Taking the reins at the Commercial Avenue district would be the latest project for the Calumet Area Industrial Commission, which is willing to take on roles that are typically “a little bit out of the realm of an industrial association,” President and CEO Ted Stalnos said.
The Pullman-based commission offers everything from job training and apprenticeship programs to COVID-19 initiatives, and it has been the service provider for Roseland’s taxing district since it was founded six years ago, Stalnos said.
Stalnos and Roseland council manager Sheilah Robinson touted the industrial commission’s Far South Side work at the meeting, saying they could bring the same knowledge, resources and financial backing to South Chicago.
But many neighbors pressed Chico to keep South Chicago Parents and Friends in place. They praised the industrial commission for its work on the Far South Side, but they urged Stalnos’ group to build more relationships and offer more services in South Chicago rather than push to oversee the taxing district.
Supporters credited the district — under South Chicago Parents and Friends’ watch — for helping spark development, streetscape improvements and relationships among locals after decades of disinvestment in the community.
“We’re turning a corner, we’re coming out of the muck, we’re a phoenix rising from the ashes. And now, we’re going to give the [special service area] to somebody that’s not even here, [that’s] in Pullman?” said former Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, Chico’s predecessor as 10th Ward alderperson.
Some in attendance also questioned why Chico introduced a potential replacement rather than opening the service provider position up to a public bidding process. Others noted the workforce development efforts Stalnos highlighted are not typically the role of the special taxing districts.
“I think we’re happy with South Chicago Parents and Friends,” said Commissioner Angela Hurlock, who presided over Wednesday’s meeting.
Commissioners will vote Wednesday on whether to recommend South Chicago Parents and Friends remain as service provider for 2023. Hurlock expects her colleagues will vote to keep the provider, she told Block Club.
The commissioners’ vote will not finalize a decision, as Chico must also make his recommendation.
“I’m going to meet with the commissioners, I’m going to talk to them, and we’re going to work something out,” Chico said. “Nothing is being done without the community input and the input from [special service area commissioners] — let me make that very clear.”
The planning department would require a bidding process — where potential service providers would apply and present to Chico and the district commissioners — if they disagree on which group should oversee the district, spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said.
To date, an alderperson and commissioners have never disagreed on who should be a district’s service provider, Strazzabosco said.
South Chicago Parents and Friends, a nonprofit which serves people with developmental disabilities, replaced the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce when it took over the taxing district.
The South Chicago chamber and former executive director Dan Lira were permanently banned from doing business with the city in 2019 after a report from the inspector general’s office accused Lira of embezzling funds from the taxing district, according to CBS2.
On the Northwest Side, the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce was ousted last year amid allegations of mismanagement. The ouster came less than two years after Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) and the district’s commissioners pushed to replace its longtime service provider, the Six Corners Association. The Portage Park Chamber of Commerce now oversees that district.
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