Since the start of my time serving as Alderman of this community, I have been adamant about making sure that the concerns of the constituents that I serve are adequately represented in any major development in the 4th Ward. This will not change with the request for proposal (RFP) process for the Michael Reese site.
In April of 2016, after two weeks on the job, I was made aware that the Chicago Park District had plans to expand parking at the 31st Street Harbor for private boat owners, with no reasonable plans made to accommodate the general public who patronize the 31st Street Beach. Once I became aware of this, I stopped the process from going forward and I worked with the Chicago Park District to make sure they understood the needs of the residents and the history of the beach. As many in our community may know, the 31st Street Beach has an important place in the history of this city with it being the epicenter of racial tension in the early 20th Century and with the Race Riot of 1919, an incident that was tied to the lack of access and proper accommodations for everyone, regardless of race, to attend the beach. Through this process in April of last year, I was able to substantially expand the parking at the beach for the general public to make sure everyone had access to Chicago’s crown jewel, the lakefront.
Additionally, there have been multiple South Loop developments that were started during the tenure of my predecessor, Alderman William D. Burns, which I also put on hold until I met with the developers to express the concerns of my constituents. In each case, I made sure that they were responsive to residents’ concerns regarding plans that would adversely impact existing quality of life, increased density near the developments, and the desired inclusion of affordable housing units. Also, I pressed developers to include in their projects tangible, meaningful opportunities for Minority Owned Business Enterprises (MBEs) and Women Owned Enterprises (WBEs).
As Alderman, through community meetings I have hosted one-on-one conversations with residents, I have heard the concerns of the community regarding the Michael Reese site. I am also aware of the views expressed by the participants in 2012-2013 community meetings that were summarized in the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill report. From this valuable community input, it is clear that residents want a use for the Michael Reese site that compliments the rich and storied history of this community and provides additional housing, retail and other first-class amenities that will help this community become more sustainable and grow.
Although my vision for the site has not been crystallized, as I eagerly await input from the community as well from the various bids from developers not yet submitted, I am clear that I am not in favor of a casino. Our community members have clearly voiced their opinion that they are not in favor of that potential use, and research and past history suggests that casinos generally have a deleterious impact on surrounding communities. In my opinion, there are better ways to create jobs and enhance the vibrancy of the community.
Finally, it is my intention to make the RFP process clear and transparent. While it is good to see that the process is moving forward towards creating a clear future for the site, I want to make sure that the community continues to have substantive input on what proposal is selected and in every crucial aspect of the development. In short, transparency and community dialogue must be part of this process or I will oppose any selection made for this site.
Sophia D. King
Alderman, 4th Ward