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City Colleges get go-ahead for 'hostile takeover' of Harold Washington center


The Chicago City Colleges on Monday got the go-ahead - and the $1.8 million city subsidy it needs - to proceed with a "hostile takeover" of former Ald. Dorothy Tillman's signature project facing foreclosure: the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville.

Tillman, whose daughter oversees the non-profit that runs the 1,000-seat auditorium at 47th and King Drive, denounced the vote by the City Council's Finance Committee as both illegal and ill-advised.

The former alderman argued that the $1.8 million subsidy was "illegally taken out" of the Bronzeville tax-increment-financing (TIF) district "under cloak of darkness" without public input or prior authorization from the city's Community Development Commission.

"This money was illegally taken out without the community knowing to give City Colleges the money to purchase our building. It makes no sense when City Colleges is in major default right now. They have closed Olive-Harvey nursing school in the black community. They're closing it at Kennedy-King. They have been eating from the trough of TIF over and over again and they still have the same problems," Tillman said.

"I don't know what's the big rush-why you've got to give City Colleges this money. Our [foreclosure] process has to be played out in the court….Tobacco Road has run a great center. A lot of theaters in this country and this city have gone through changes. …What I'm doing is fighting for a community that's dying down there."

Jimalita Tillman, executive director of Tobacco Road, noted that all seven Chicago City Colleges have their own theaters with state-of-the-art equipment, but they're "under-utilized and under-staffed."

"They have a difficult time managing their own theater arts programming. I find it alarming that, now they want to come and take our facility," Jimalita Tillman said, warning of "major legal recourse."

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who made the center's troubles a campaign issue against Dorothy Tillman in 2007, said the Tillman family has had long enough to stave off foreclosure.

"This has been going on for almost two years. Now we need to just turn the page, look towards the future and do something positive with that facility, which is really the catalyst for the whole redevelopment of 47th Street," the alderman said.

Without a city-subsidized takeover, Dowell warned that the center built with nearly $9 million from Chicago taxpayers could fall into the wrong hands.

"That could be a strip club. It could be a Church's Fried Chicken. It could be a church. That corner, which is an historic, important corner in Bronzeville, needs to have a cultural center," she said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in mid-September that Daley wants to give City Colleges $1.8 million in TIF funds to purchase the center and turn into an education and performing arts center, complete with a student-run jazz and blues-themed restaurant and a museum celebrating the rich history of Bronzeville.

The latest in a string of controversies surrounding the theater that Tillman hoped would anchor a "Chicago Blues District" along 47th Street was triggered by a $1.3 million foreclosure lawsuit filed last year by the now-shuttered ShoreBank.

That put Tobacco Road in default of a grant agreement that provided city funds used to build the facility.

Armed with an independent audit, the Daley administration further accused the center of falling more than 200 events-a-year short of its booking obligations. Tillman flatly denied the charge.

On Monday, City Colleges officials told aldermen they intend to consolidate the system's performing arts programs into the Bronzeville venue.

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