Morgan, Halsted Streets leading Bridgeport revitalization efforts
May 6, 2017

By Patrick Butler

A streetscaping program will give Morgan Street a makeover costing $3.8 million and be completed in summer. (Courtesy Chicago Department of Transportation)

The Bridgeport community is undergoing an extensive infrastructure overhaul and a business revitalization. According to Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th Ward), a recently started streetscaping program, which includes installing traffic calmers and bumpouts along Morgan from 3100 to 3500 south, will conclude by early summer at a cost of about $3.8 million.

“The streetscape project will help to revitalize the Morgan Street corridor and encourage the growth of new businesses,” Thompson said, noting his predecessor, Ald. James Balcer, started the project before he retired two years ago. Halsted Street, which Thompson described as a “work in progress” running from 32nd to 33rd Streets, will get new sewer lines, reportedly for the first time since right after the Great Chicago Fire, Thompson said. That, in turn, has prompted a number of local businesses from Kimski, a Korean-Polish restaurant at 31st St., to a Mexican restaurant, La Mexicana Taqueria at 35th St., to renovate. Potsticker House, 3139 S. Halsted St., is putting in a parking lot on the parcel next to its building, Thompson said.

“Just like bookends,” he said of the renovating businesses, describing Halsted as “the economic corridor of the entire ward.” In between those “bookends,” the Martinez grocery store at 33rd and Morgan also will make some major improvements, the alderman added. Among others busy these days are Dave Samber, who is upgrading the Polo Inn at 3322 S. Morgan St., home of the Sing-Along Gospel Brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “I’m trying to re-energize the place,” said Samber, who has owned the business for 25 years and runs a bed and breakfast as well as the café.

A recent addition, Tria, opened late last year at 3300 S. Halsted St., formerly the site of the Calabruzzi Café. The Bertucci family owns Tria, along with Fabulous Freddy’s Italian Eatery, 701 W. 31st St. “It’s a great addition on Halsted,” Thompson said.

Ramova interest

The shuttered Ramova Theater, 3518 S. Halsted St., dark since 1985 and now owned by the City, still awaits some kind of new life, said Thompson. “We have a lot of interest from different groups, but nothing is imminent,” Thompson said of the onetime 1,500-seat movie palace that opened in 1929. The Ramova had its golden moment in 1940 when Charlie Chaplin came in for the Chicago premiere of his The Great Dictator at the Ramova (and at the Music Box on the North Side) because the major Loop theaters felt queasy about Chaplin’s satire of Adolf Hitler. Thompson also has been working on a Stockyards Museum that would go up not far from the monument that already exists on Exchange Avenue near the original arch. He already has started meeting with “interested people. We’re moving this forward.”

The South Loop Chamber of Commerce, a Bridgeport group, credits Thompson with being “the one who got this [Bridgeport revitalization] going,” said the chamber’s Colleen Mancari. You can already see a difference, she said. “I think it’s going to let the businesses here shine a little more.”

Art scene

As a result of recent activities, Mancari said, “we’ve had a lot of artists coming to the Bridgeport Arts Center, 1200 W. 35th St., and Zhou Brothers, 1029 W. 35th St.,” a gallery that rents out space for art shows and events like weddings. “They have art walks going on every third Friday of the month as still more artists keep moving into the area,” Mancari said, calling the Halsted/Morgan renaissance “a major cultural boost” as well as an economic shot in the arm. The area even boasts three neighborhood gyms—the Bridgeport Boxing Club, 3411 S. Halsted St.; Lance’s Gym, 1200 W. 35th St.; and Charter Fitness, 3145 S. Ashland Ave—that make one recall the atmosphere of boxing movies such as Cinderella Man, Body and Soul, and Requiem for a Heavyweight.

Despite the memories and monuments, the local business world is not what it once was, Thompson said. In an earlier era, he explained, “the vibrancy of retail was different. Today people go in and kick the tires, then go home and order online.”

Thompson said he has been trying to encourage owners of some of the area’s vacant properties to do something with them and hopes to be able to help with small renovation projects such as new facades using the City’s Small Business Improvement Fund. He also plans to convene a Halsted Street Summit on Bridgeport’s vacant properties problem sometime this summer.

“We have people who come in and invest and don’t want to do anything—they want to hold onto that property, then make their money later,” Thompson said. “I don’t have time for that. I want people who want to do things now,” he said.