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Mayor highlights $65 million in projects on Near South Side

CTA President Forrest Claypool Chicago Dept. TransportatiCommissioner Gabe KleChicago Public Library Commissioner Brian BannDepartment Housing Economic Development Andrew J. Mooney

CTA President Forrest Claypool, Chicago Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon and Department of Housing and Economic Development Andrew J. Mooney wait for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to arrive. The mayor announced more than $65 million in infrastructure projects in the near south side at Weather Mark Tavern, 1503 S. Michigan Ave. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 30, 2012 6:07AM

On the heels of a 36 percent surge in downtown residents over the last decade, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday showcased $65 million worth of infrastructure projects aimed at spreading the wealth to the burgeoning Near South Side.

Repeating a strategy that has worked in the past, City Hall bundled $65 million worth of South Loop projects into one big package and showcased it as an effort to spur economic growth in an area bounded by Congress Parkway, the Stevenson Expressway, the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

CTA projects include rebuilding the Harrison Red Line subway station in 2014 at a cost of $10 million and rehabilitating the Orange Line elevated tracks between Clark and State, beginning next year, with a $25 million price tag, $11.5 million of it generated by a surrounding tax-increment-financing (TIF) district.

Other transit upgrades include: streetscape improvements along Michigan Avenue, 23rd and 24th Streets to promote “neighborhood identification” and bolster connections between Motor Row, the CTA’s soon-to-be-built Cermak Station and McCormick Place ($5.8 million) and “station frontage enhancements” from State to Columbus ($7 million).

The Chicago Park District is planning to improve Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens Field House, recently converted from commercial to recreational use and build a “public open space” on city-owned land transferred to the Park District, using $3 million in TIF money for each of those projects.

The mayor’s list also includes a new Chinatown Branch library ($12 million in TIF money); rehabilitation of a three-story building on Motor Row for the manufacture of malted beverages ($2.5 million, including a $628,000 TIF subsidy); and a new Regional Gifted Center at the National Teachers Academy for “exceptional and advanced” CPS students.

Funding for the new school and a construction timetable have not yet been nailed down.

At a news conference at Weather Mark Tavern, 1503 S. Michigan, Emanuel referred to this week’s report from the U.S. Census Bureau about the population explosion within two miles of Chicago’s City Hall.

“Residential [population] near downtown Chicago grew by 36 percent — 48,000 people in the last decade — far surpassing any other city in the country in the sense of growth in its downtown business area. Bigger than New York, L.A., San Francisco,” the mayor said.

“This investment …. allows us to take that growth and really accentuate the strength what’s going on. ... It’s a coordinated investment in the downtown, South Loop, Motor Row, Chinatown and Bronzeville communities that are the type of investments people want to see from their city: in parks, transportation, library and schools. If you make those investments, then the private sector that creates the permanent jobs … can go alongside and invest in that community further.”

Even before the city’s $65 million investment, the South Loop was thriving, according to Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president of the Near South Planning Board.

“Businesses are expanding. New retailers, like Mariano’s, have recently chosen the South Loop as their home,” she said.

“Just drive through the area and you can witness all the activity happening in the neighborhood with the installation of new, protected bike lanes and paths, many street resurfacing projects, new residential developments and even construction of a new building for Jones College Prep.”

It’s not the first time Emanuel has used the bundling strategy.

Earlier this year, Emanuel packaged all of the city’s previously-announced infrastructure projects into one big bundle with 30,000 jobs, a $7.3 billion price tag and a new name, “Building a New Chicago.”

Most, if not all, of the CTA, water, sewer, parks, schools and City Colleges projects had been announced before. So had the $1.7 billion “infrastructure trust” the mayor hopes to use to bankroll some of the projects.

But, the packaging worked to grab headlines.

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