City promises to repair Fulton Market streetscaping bollards and pavers
November 1, 2019

Graphic courtesy City of Chicago
The City plans to fix recent bollard and paver damage, bringing the Fulton Market streetscaping project back to its original design by City architects.

By Rick Romano

Damage to Fulton Market’s streetscaping upgrades, along Fulton Street between Halsted Street and Ogden Avenue, will not hinder progress toward enhancing the area’s rapid commercial and residential growth, said City and community organization officials.

Workers completed phase one of the $20.3 million project late last year, but their efforts recently were marred by toppled bollards (posts that promote pedestrian safety in tight areas) and broken pavers. While they did not identify a specific cause, local leaders surmised the damage came from various commercial and private vehicles.

Michael Claffey, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), said workers will repair the damage after they build out the area enough to eliminate the need for most construction trucks. He said the initial budget will be able to absorb the repair cost.

“We are still evaluating the extent of the damage,” Claffey said, noting officials estimate 15 of the more than 100 bollards sustained damage. He also said the second streetscaping phase has no bollards; that phase is underway and scheduled through 2019 between Carpenter Street and Ogden Avenue.

“We knew there would be a lot of change with the construction of new buildings in the area,” Claffey said, regarding the notion that construction vehicles may have contributed to the bulk of the damage. “I guess we just didn’t know how much.”

Varying views

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward) agreed repairs should come after construction.

“It’s important to get everyone on the same page,” he said. “Obviously, the loading and unloading of trucks may have contributed to what happened, but we have a lot of meetings on the project, and I’m confident that it will get worked out.”

Matt Letourneau, Neighbors of West Loop (NOWL) board member, said his organization appreciates the effort to bring new life to Fulton Street but expressed concern about the damage.

“Any time you have an investment of that size in a project, it is disappointing to see that happen,” he said. “The bollards are there to protect pedestrians and help delineate parking areas. I believe there are a number of issues involved in what happens when streets are narrowing.”

CDOT’s Claffey described the neighborhood as transforming from a wholesale market to a blend of commercial, residential, and tech hubs.

“The ongoing project features a flexible design that reflects the evolving land use,” Claffey said, noting it aims to be pedestrian friendly while preserving the neighborhood’s historic character. “It is intended to accommodate outdoor markets such as the Fulton Market Expo and other special events that require street closures.”

Claffey said workers have placed the bollards only in the “flex street, curb less” section of the streetscape. Bollards help manage traffic and safety during events, and protect streetscape elements such as benches and planters, and are easily moved to accommodate temporary street use changes.

“This flex street design is innovative and one of the first of its kind in Chicago,” Claffey said. “As with any innovative design concept, we recognize that adjustments may be necessary.”

‘Extremely alarming’

“It is extremely alarming that $20 million is being spent and things are falling over,” said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association (FMA). “It is important that Fulton be fixed as a modern public way. It’s important to repair and modernize offices and bring in services like restaurants, but why $20 million?”

Romanelli’s cost concern involves the use of tax incremental financing (TIF) funds.

“Why is it costing us TIF funds?” he asked, noting they should go toward other uses. He added the process lacks transparency.

“Any time there is a City project, any time TIF money is involved, we should be insisting on cost accounting and a community benefits agreement,” Romanelli said. He said he was unsuccessful in appealing to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to place transparency requirements for expenditures exceeding $250,000 but hopes Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration will be more responsive.

“We need to know more about where the money is going and who are the contractors and subcontractors involved,” he said.

Carla Agostinelli is executive director of the West Loop Community Organization (WLCO), the organization to which the City delegated the task of assisting in the streetscape project to coordinate construction and community outreach. Her organization will take over the area’s ongoing maintenance once workers complete the project.

Agostinelli said Romanelli has not attended regularly scheduled public weekly meetings to update the public about all aspects of the project.

“Roger does not attend these meetings, and I don’t see more than about ten people from the public there,” she said. “I feel there has been transparency.”

Urban model

Agostinelli echoed Claffey’s assessment that Fulton Street is emblematic of an urban renaissance in which neighborhoods once earmarked as strictly commercial with little public interaction are now reimagined as multi-faceted areas attracting residents, businesses, and in the case of the Fulton district, technology-based enterprises.

“Up to two and a half years ago,” she said, “this was a meatpacking district. The change is significant.”

For Burnett’s office, call (312) 432-1995. For CDOT, log on to https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdot.html. The FMA website is at https://fultonmarketchicago.org. NOWL’s website is https:/neighborsofwestloop.com. For more information about the Fulton streetscaping project and WLCO, go to www.westloop.org.