One of the more funny-if-it-weren’t-sad local tales of planning gone awry* is the “47th Street Blues District,” so christened in a strange economic development effort by former Ald. Dorothy Tillman and her odd version of an edifice complex. (Sometimes, it seemed more like a de-edifice complex, given the countless vacant lots in her ward.) 47th was the celebrated commercial artery of Bronzeville once upon a time, the retail cornerstone of “The Stroll” boulevardier circuit. This Trib article by Antonio Olivo gives some background about the grand plans for a street that’s not even a ghost of its old self, and how those plans are adjusting under a new, reality-based alderman. Here was a street which could have been a great case study for an incremental, historic preservation-based and transit-oriented approach to revitalization — these buildings tell great stories — but which fell victim to venal local politics which sucked away key resources (buildings, businesses, money, time), and now has that much further to go.
A few key foibles along the way:
1. Neighborhood historian Timuel Black insists that 47th was a street for jazz, not blues, so the entire premise rested on pretty thin ice.
2. The only remaining viable business from the street’s heyday as an entertainment destination, the Palm Tavern, was unceremoniously shuttered by eminent domain in 2001 and subsequently demolished using promised TIF funds — and replaced with nothing.
3. Now, we find out from Tom Corfman in Crain’s that the much-heralded, expensive, and strangely quiet cultural center which was to be the centerpiece around which the district would grow (pretty much from scratch, seeing as half the urban fabric thereabouts has disappeared) is not just in violation of its city grant terms, but in foreclosure as well.
4. And lest anyone forget, the Rosenwald Garden Apartments will soon face another long winter of abandonment and decay.
* even in a city where the feds launch investigations with names like “Crooked Code.”
There was a whole team out on the corner of 47th & King on Sunday, with a PA system and folks with cups walking between stopped cars. “Praise the Lord!… We need just $1.4 million!” It was quite a sight to behold – and more activity than I’ve ever seen going on in that building.
That’s 70,000 pounds of quarters. Got a long way to go.