About 45 members of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce convened yesterday morning at Feast, 1616 N. Damen, for the annual ‘State of the Wards’ featuring speakers Aldermen Scott Waguespack and ‘Proco’ Joe Moreno of the 32nd and 1st Wards, respectively.
After brief introductions by WPB Chamber Executive Director Adam Burck, and Board President Phillip Laurin, who noted that, among other highlights, the chamber has a new website and membership is up by 70%, Ald. Waguespack took to the podium.
Waguespack apologized for having to possibly leave early, due to a “very long meeting downtown,” wherein nine committeemen, including himself and Ald. Moreno, were planning to “work on [finding] a replacement for Derrick Smith.”
“We’re looking for a new representative that would do well by the people. A lot of people say that it’s typical Chicago [politics]… I think Joe [Moreno] and I would like to see a candidate that would serve us better,” Waguespack said, referring to 10th District State Rep. Smith, who was recently indicted for bribery charges.
(UPDATE: Announced today, Lance Tyson, a former aid to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, will run against State Rep. Smith this fall. Pictured is Smith at Wicker Park’s BooPalooza this past fall).
Waguespack discussed the recent passing of an ordinance which consolidates the number of business licenses from 160 to about 50. He said it would streamline “an archaic process.”
“Changing the licensing was really good for us. We’re still hearing things like Logan Square Kitchen going under and food trucks [having problems] but the dept. [of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] is working on that,” he said.
As for this neighborhood, he credited the Wicker Park and Bucktown area for not just having some of the best businesses in the city, but being responsible for “some of the best revenue that goes back into the system.”
He encouraged those at the meeting to take advantage of these new changes. “Now is the prime time to go into the mayor’s office,” he said.
On the topic of Neighborhood safety, Waguespack gave props to 14th District Police Officers for being visible during NATO and for monitoring the Bloomingdale Trail area to ensure that people were staying off of it.
“We know we need more beat officers, more staffing. We need police presence not just when there are big events, but 24/7,” he expressed.
He then transitioned to new ward specific projects, like the neighborhood’s first Trans-orientated Development (TOD), an 11-story building planned for Ashland and Division.
According to Moreno, the residential building, with retail on the ground floor, live/work artist studios, and an i-Go car sharing station, to name a few benefits, is being geared toward those who do not own cars. The development is currently LEED-Gold Certified, though Moreno said he’s “hoping for platinum.”
He lauded the property as being the “entrance to Wicker Park” and said, “There’s a lot of heavy lifting I need to do in [city] council [to make it happen].” Moreno noted that more community meetings on the project would be taking place in the future.
Last month, Moreno zoned the south side of Division, between Ashland and Marshfield, as a Pedestrian walkway, preventing any future curb cuts. [See Public Notice sign; update-- We reached out to Jessica Wobbekind in the SSA #33 office post-meeting, to understand what that means. Jessica replied, "According to Raymond Valadez, the Public Notice is that the Alderman wants to remove the pedestrian zoning on the South side of Division from Ashland to Marshfield to allow for whatever is going in the new development at the Pizza Hut site. So, Division is already zoned a pedestrian street all the way to Leavitt. This means that there is a requirement that the businesses are store-front pedestrian friendly businesses and can’t require curb cuts- so no strip malls, drive-thrus, etc."]
On Milwaukee Avenue, Moreno discussed Emporium Arcade Bar, at 1366 N. Milwaukee, slated to open soon. Per Moreno, a variance to an existing city ordinance was granted in order to permit the arcade-focused bar featuring 80s era arcade games and pinball machines to do business. “City ordinance only allows you to have games if there’s less than four,” he said.
He then discussed Prasino, which will soon be opening a new restaurant concept next to Native Foods Cafe, at 1484 N. Milwaukee, pictured. (The Pipeline referenced this in our Spaces column a few weeks back; a Middle Eastern style eatery is in the works).
Graffiti has been an ongoing concern for local businesses. Moreno mentioned SoSafe, a graffiti removal agent from Australia that he’s putting to use on Graffiti Action Removal Days, with the next one slated for this Saturday. Moreno says he’s tested no less than eight other products, and SoSafe can clean any surface except brick.
For those curious about the art project at the Damen Blue Line, to be curated by Johalla Projects, Moreno said that he was just in talks with Anna [Cerniglia] of Johalla Projects this past week. ‘White Light’ will be installed at the Damen Blue Line soon. It will be funded by donations, per Moreno, who added “the SSA [#33] supports it.” Pictured is a Johalla Projects installation at the California Blue Line.
Lastly, as early as 45 days from now, “You will be able to live and work in your storefront,” Moreno said. Expected to go into effect in mid-July, The live/work ordinance would allow for small business owners to live and work in the same space, a privilege until recently only available to fine artists. A special use permit would be required through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Moreno said, adding that he’s already spoken with many real estate brokers to help them understand and market the new ordinance.
In the Q&A period, both aldermen were asked about where they stand on gaming. “I am supportive of a downtown casino,” Moreno said.
A representative from a local community organization urged both aldermen to bring more trash cans to the streets, particularly in Bucktown. Moreno replied that he had found a solution (referring to the Free Green Cans, now removed) and stated that he vows to continue trying to find creative solutions.
SSA #33 Commissioner Wayne Janik, pictured, expressed his frustrations with the lengthy amount of time it takes for the city to approve permits for trash cans.
Eric Williams, a longtime business owner, who operates The Silver Room brought up the issue of a Public Place of Amusement (PPA) license, which he was told that he would need to have after city inspectors ticketed a small gathering he’d hosted in his retail shop a year-and-a-half ago.
The gathering had involved less than 20 people, a wine and cheese plate, and a few adults drinking wine, one of whom was a grandmother. William said he was cited for not having a retail food license and cautioned other business owners to realize it could happen to them, too. Per Williams, the PPA license is $1,300 and would cost up to $5,000 in legal fees to obtain.
“If you have a retail space, according to the city, you can only have a retail space. This means you can’t have a trunk show, a book signing, even a wine and cheese plate,” he said.
There seemed to have been no clear answer to Williams’ concern, though The Pipeline intends to find out more about the PPA license and how it relates to the many dozens of small businesses who regularly host trunk shows and receptions, often to create a buzz around their wares in a challenging climate for independent business owners.
“The SSA is a funding stream of tax dollars from the businesses on the commercial streets, and the SSA contracts with the chamber to help manage the activities,” she said.
One example of such interrelations involves the recent Guide to Wicker Park, produced by Time Out Chicago. It was the fourth year that the SSA and Chamber has partnered with Time Out Chicago.
Another example of collaboration between the chamber and SSA will occur at the upcoming Wicker Park Fest, which has expanded from the six corner intersection, south to Paulina this year. The SSA #33 is funding two arts programming stages within the fest, between Wood and Paulina.
The SSA #33 is governed by up to 12 volunteer commissioners. Currently there are eight commissioners, with room for four more. Wobbekind encouraged interested parties who live or do business on the district’s commercial streets to visit the SSA #33 web site for more information.
“Have a say in how your taxpayer dollars are being spent,” she said, shortly before the meeting adjourned.
For one more photo, click here.