Alderman Thompson considering Bridgeport business strip rezoning
September 1, 2017

Alderman Patrick D. Thompson wants to use zoning to revitalize the commercial strips in Bridgeport, such as the area at 31st and Morgan Streets.

By Patrick Butler

Can there be too much business on a business strip?

There can be if the businesses are massage parlors, nail salons, and tattoo emporiums, Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11th Ward) said just before going into a recent merchants’ summit with approximately 50 local business owners and managers to discuss how much is too much.

Thompson said he called the meeting to give residents and business owners some say in the kinds of businesses most needed, especially along Halsted and Morgan Streets around 35th Street, as he is considering rezoning the area.

Any zoning changes “would require a community meeting,” Thompson said. “The whole idea is to find out what the community wants. What I’ve heard so far is more entertainment, restaurant options, more main street small town businesses as opposed to big box. And we’d like a lot more residential development coming in here. We’d like a variety. We’re a very diverse community.”

Thompson was pleased Crain’s Chicago Business “recognized us a couple of weeks ago as an up and coming community,” he said. “We’ve got a strong industrial base with companies like Vienna Beef. Retailers look first at the residential base, then the industrial. We’re at that pinnacle now where we want an environment that’s even more conducive to industrial development.”

Thompson noted Potsticker House Restaurant is building a parking lot at 31st and Halsted Streets. He added that, “a new uniform store is opening for police officers, firefighters, and mail carriers about a block from the Deering police station” at 3120 S. Halsted St. “There’s also another uniform store at 36th and Halsted,” Thompson said.

Grandfathered in

Thompson said none of the existing massage parlors, nail salons, or tattoo shops would have to leave and would be “grandfathered in” after rezoning. Should those businesses shut down, however, a similar business would not be allowed on that same site.

Thompson is “trying for a zoning that covers just about everything, but not too much of one thing,” he explained. “I’ve been downzoning since I’ve become alderman” two years ago. He added that workers will repave Halsted Street later this year after crews install new water and sewer pipes, and a nearly $4 million streetscaping program intended to slow traffic along Morgan Street from 31st to 35th streets should wrap up before fall.

While Bridgeport has seen an influx of new residents and industries, smaller shops and stores have not followed suit as hoped, said Thompson.

“We want there to be places for people to get a sandwich and have a date night,” Thompson said. “We need to create that momentum.”

He noted aldermen have broad discretion in zoning in their own wards.

Thompson originally had plan-ned to introduce a package that included rezoning in Bridgeport and Chinatown earlier this summer but postponed introduction after about a dozen Chinatown business leaders asked for a closer look at the plan. 

Requiring permission

Thompson’s plans would increase the number of businesses needing special permission to open in both areas.

At the same time, though, “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s business.” But when “one too many nail salons opens up, it can derail the momentum” of improving the business climate.

Earlier this summer, another South Side alderman, Leslie Hairston, introduced a similar rezoning plan intended to halt new nail salons, convenience stores, and beauty supply stores in the 7th Ward by targeting 71st Street. Aldermen stay aware of how initiatives in other wards work out, and Thompson is keeping an eye on Hairston’s proposal.

Thompson also will look to sell off some of the 11th Ward’s City-owned property, ranging from vacant lots to the long vacant Ramova Theater at 3518 S. Halsted St.

Thompson said he is open to seeing the Ramova become either a live theater or a cinema, “but it’s hard for movie houses to be profitable. And they’ve got to be sure there’s enough parking. We’re not like some neighborhoods where there’s plenty of parking. We’d have to have parking to make it work.”

The alderman warned that would be “land bankers” hoping to snap up and hold parcels for a future financial killing should look elsewhere for opportunities.

“I don’t have a whole lot interest in people who just buy property to hold and make money on later without developing the area,” Thompson said.

As for a timetable for his plans, Thompson said, “Hopefully we’ll be able to make some announcements in the near future.”

“We support the alderman in his efforts,” said Colleen Mancari, office manager at the South Loop Chamber of Commerce. “He’s one of our board members.  We’re just waiting to see what the businesses and residents want and we’ll move on from there.”

Local business owners declined to comment for this article.

For more information, contact Thompson’s office at (773) 254-6677.