Bridgeport Alliance discusses community issues and development at recent meeting
December 6, 2019

Photo by Christopher Valentino
Bridgeport Alliance brought area residents together on Oct. 30 at Taylor-Laurid-sen Park. Among the many items on the agenda was the future plans and impact of a renovated Ramova Theatre.

By Rodrigo Hernandez

Bridgeport Alliance, a grassroots community organization, hosted a community development forum at Taylor-Lauridsen Park, 704 W. 42nd St. on Oct. 30.

Martin A. Gleason, Cook County juvenile probation officer and member of the alliance, helped organize the forum and facilitated small group discussions. Before the forum, Gleason shared his insight.

Bridgeport Alliance encourages community members to work and collaborate to make their neighborhoods better. “I think I’m here for the reason that everybody else is going to be here: to work on ways of a ward community focused development plan and then encourage more community engagement and development that is reflective on what the neighborhoods want—not just what other interests may have,” Gleason said. 

He also mentioned the Ramova Theatre, a beloved vacant theatre in Bridgeport that residents want renovated. (See related article, page 1.) He said the meeting would allow community members to discuss the theatre’s future. “It would be a big thing, and we want to make sure that it is representative of what the community wants,” Gleason said.

Charlotte Piwowar, a high school teacher and Bridgeport Alliance chair, hoped to hear rich ideas from neighborhood residents during the meeting. “We can bring those ideas to the alderman [Patrick Thompson] and other key players and from there also do more research on how we can make those dreams become a reality in our neighborhood,” said Piwowar.

Like Gleason, Piwowar commented on the Ramova, saying it “is going to be potentially redeveloped, and that’s a neighborhood gem that we’d like the community to offer input on. The goal is to try to bring community voice to people that have power to do something.” 

Discussion topics

The forum also covered the MAT Asphalt plant, located across from McKinley Park at 2055 W. Pershing Rd. The plant allegedly operates on a permit expired since the summer, neighbors said, and another grassroots organization, Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ), released a petition online demanding official shut down and relocation of the MAT plant. Neighbors allege dust and fumes from the plant pollute the neighborhood.

Attendees also discussed the Chicago Helicopter Experience at 2420 S. Halsted St. It opened in the community with approval from former 11th Ward Alderman James Balcer, but those at the meeting said he and the City gave little attention to public input at the time. Bridgeport Alliance encouraged residents to call 311 if they notice helicopters operating outside the flight pattern and hours outlined in the company’s legal covenant, which dictates helicopters may fly only over I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway) and out to the lake—not over houses—and not past 10 p.m.

Concerning the planned Starbucks development at 31st Street and south Halsted Street, meeting participants alleged it resulted from selling City-owned land at less than market value without opportunity for public input. That concern led Bridgeport Alliance to create a survey gauging public opinion regarding area development alongside the Starbucks development. The group presented survey results to Alderman Thompson at a meeting in the spring but
has gained little traction with him over the issue, neighbors alleged.

Residents also discussed ideas for community development.

Afterthoughts

After the meeting, Bridgeport Alliance member Mary Mercer said, “I think it went well. We were really engaged, and I felt that I got a lot of information and that people were able to really spread the word on what we should do next.”

She emphasized the forum was productive. “We weren’t just commiserating,” she noted. “I feel like we have a lot of concretes, actually.”

Kelly Chen, Bridgeport resident and project analyst for the non-profit organization Full Circle Communities, said of the meeting, “This is something that I think that I would want to go to because it’s about Bridgeport, and I want to be more active in my community.”

Like Mercer, Chen felt satisfied with the result. “I thought it was a generally good meeting,” she said. “I personally like to include other people who are from the neighborhood, other people who care about the neighborhood, and who are trying to be more politically active.”

Attendees’ evaluation forms indicated participants felt positive about the meeting overall. Said Piwowar, “We wanted for people to feel what a community-driven process could look like and begin to plant the seed that this is what the norm should be, and not the exception. People also had very robust and thoughtful visions of what they hoped for the community, and it is encouraging to know that there are so many engaged individuals committed to making their voices heard in order to build a stronger neighborhood for all.”

A subsequent meeting to discuss the Ramova Theatre site took place Nov. 19 at Nativity of Our Lord Church hall. The developer interested in the theatre and Alderman Thompson attended.

The neighborhood also held a kickoff meeting Nov. 16 at First Trinity Community Center, exploring ways for residents to offer input into development processes and discussing what other community groups have done concerning zoning and conversations with experts.

To contact Bridgeport Alliance, call Anna Schibrowsky at (312) 316-6508. To contact Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ), email neighbors4environmentaljustice@gmail.com.