Emanuel moves to build new $62 million road to Chinatown
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter April 30, 2014 5:13PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says a $50 million road will make it easier to get to Chinatown from the Loop, and he is trying to acquire the land needed to get it built. | Sun-Times File Photo
Updated: April 30, 2014 8:46PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved Wednesday to assemble the land needed to build a $62 million road between the Loop and Chinatown to improve access to new residential development and Ping Tom Memorial Park and make the busy intersection of Wells and Wentworth safer.
At a City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced a pair of ordinances empowering the city to acquire a state-owned parking lot and three privately-owned parcels that stand in the path of the new road.
In a press release, the mayor noted the city departments of Transportation and Planning and Development have spent the last 12 years searching for ways to “address the safety and congestion problems, particularly coming off the Dan Ryan ramps at Cermak.”
In April 2008, an out-of-control semi exited the expressway at Cermak, plowing into the Red Line station there. Two people were killed and about two dozen injured.
The new road would be known as the Wells-Wentworth Connector. The first phase — with construction beginning this fall and ending at the close of 2015 — will provide “improved access along Wentworth to the Ping Tom Memorial Park field house” near 19th Street, officials said.
That will be followed by the realignment of Wentworth at Cermak, beginning in late fall of 2015. The third and final phase will provide access to “undeveloped land adjacent to” the Chicago River north of the fieldhouse.
“Construction of the right-of-way will be coordinated in conjunction with a future mixed-used redevelopment agreement,” the press release states.
“The alignments were considered for how they would best accommodate new development, maintain existing development and improve connections within Chinatown and to the River South area.”
Though the press release includes no pricetag or source of funding for the project, Peter Scales, a spokesman for the city Department of Transportation, later in the day put the cost at $62 million, including design, land acquisition and construction.
Scales said the three private properties to be acquired are three buildings on the northwest corner of Wentworth and Cermak — at 202, 204 and 208 W. Cermak Rd.
Local Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said money for the project would come from funds generated by a surrounding tax-increment-financing (TIF) district.
“On this end of the South Loop, we’re starting to get more development right alongside the Chicago River. There needs to be an outlet for all of this development. We need to have more north-south roads and, possibly, some east-west roads,” Solis said Wednesday.
“This will provide a connector from the north end of the South Loop down to and through Chinatown. It will give us another outlet other than Clark, Wabash, Dearborn and State. It’ll create a more active and economically-viable Chinatown. It’ll be beautiful. It’s gonna be parallel to the Chicago River.”
Solis noted that a restaurant and bank stand on two of the three privately-owned properties needed to make way for the “straightening” of Wentworth.
The final, retail phase calls for the city to acquire a large parcel north of 16th Street once owned by now-convicted developer Tony Rezko, a close friend and fundraiser to convicted former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.
“It’s now owned by a developer in London. He’s in the process of selling that property, but it needs to move faster,” the alderman said.
In the press release, Emanuel was quoted as saying: “This project will create a better link between Chinatown and the Loop, improve access to Ping Tom Memorial Park, and increase the safety for motorists and pedestrians at the busy intersection in the heart of this great neighborhood.”