Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bridgeport Chicago's next artist colony?

Medill News Service | Sunday, May 22, 2005 | No comments posted.

CHICAGO | Over the years, Oskar Friedl's art gallery has moved from one pricey Chicago neighborhood to the next.

But he thinks he's found a permanent home for his business: the fledgling artists' community in Bridgeport.

The South Side neighborhood is famous for its meat-packing industry, its White Sox and its Democratic Machine politicians.

But Friedl thinks art will be the community's latest product.

He isn't alone. Other artists are moving in, and many believe the neighborhood -- unlike other communities that once supported artists and now are too expensive -- will house an artists' community for a long time.

Artists' communities have to fight to survive in Chicago, according to Barbara Koenen, project manager in the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

"When artists come in, they do tend to create attractive businesses, galleries, restaurants, gardens, festivals and concerts," she said.

"They make a neighborhood more attractive, put in on the radar? It attracts developers; people start redoing buildings, pricing artists and original residents out of the neighborhoods."

Experts agree that the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood is a classic example of a neighborhood that artists helped to improve, only to be pushed out later.

Laura Weathered, an artist who has worked in Wicker Park for more than 20 years, remembers a time when the North Side neighborhood was struggling.

"Artists were willing to go into substandard lofts, convert them and be a presence in the area," she said.

But by the late 1980s, the neighborhood had attracted attention, and developers arrived. Since then, taxes have increased 400 percent on some properties, Weathered said. Most artists left in search of more affordable neighborhoods.

From the beginning, Bridgeport artists say, their neighborhood hasn't fit the Wicker Park model.

Though the South Side area is clearly changing -- one developer estimated that about 20 new upscale housing projects have sprung up since 2001 -- art has not been the harbinger of upscale development like in Wicker Park.

Instead, developers and artists arrived at about the same time, approximately five years ago, looking for the same thing: reasonable prices.

Anthony DeGrazia, a developer of numerous Bridgeport properties, said the artists' presence "really never entered my mind.

"I see Bridgeport as the most undervalued neighborhood in the city right now," he said. "It's unbelievable what you can get for your dollar."

Interesting spaces make interesting neighbors

ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou, better known as the "Zhou brothers," also had a vision of what they could do with affordable space. They arrived nearly 20 years ago, long before many other artists started moving in.

The Zhous are internationally renowned multimedia artists, and their fame and success led to a rare commodity in the art world: money.

They're investing a substantial portion of it in Bridgeport. Currently, they own eight buildings devoted solely to art.

The Zhous are the pillars of the growing art community, according to Friedl.

He and many other artists moved their galleries to the neighborhood because the Zhou brothers rent out work and exhibition space at reasonable prices.

The Zhous' living and working space at 3308 S. Morgan St. used to be a social club. They left the high, molded ceilings and gleaming wooden bar, furnishing the space in red Chinese lanterns and sleek leather couches.

In a lot next door, the brothers created a sculpture garden, a serene oasis of gently swaying trees and austere sculptures.

Their next project is the Zhou B. Center at 1029 W. 35th St. The space will house an art school, gallery and studio rental space.

Even though property values now are "three to four times more than what they were 15 years ago," ShanZuo Zhou said he and his brother plan on keeping their tenants' rents low.

"This is the ideal situation of having property in the hands of artists rather than developers," said Martin Soto, a painter who rents space at the Center.

The Zhou B. Center also benefits from its presence in what the city calls a planned manufacturing district, or PMD. In the historic warehouse area near the Chicago River, buildings can be used only for industry, including art production.

A developer's dream

Developer Richard Price thinks the old multistory buildings are impractical for manufacturing because of the "cost of running labor up and down on an elevator." Recently, he converted a building he has owned for 25 years, at 3636 S. Iron St. near the Zhou B. Center, into artists' studios.

He plans to open gallery space and rent small studios, about 22 per floor, to artists of all types.

Currently, Price rents space for $1 per square foot per month. He said property taxes are going up, but he won't raise rents "even if taxes triple."

"We have a long-term commitment," he said. "We've seen how these communities change and we're all convinced that's not going to happen here. There's a good chance that we can maintain this."

He believes the PMD will help Bridgeport remain affordable because buildings in the warehouse district can't be used for residences.

"If people buy a building and convert it to condos, it's a one hit grand slam," he said. "That's how Wicker Park (development) took place."

Those who believe Bridgeport will remain affordable for artists argue that there's also the issue of the community's character.

Bridgeport has always resisted change. Some of the family-owned restaurants that line Halsted Street have been around for decades. Chain stores are rarities.

"There's a group of people here who buy their parents' houses," said Kris Sorich, who grew up in Bridgeport.

Yet change is occurring, she said. The city is adding new sidewalks, curbs and greenery to portions of Halsted Street. 11th Ward Alderman James Balcer is trying to attract new businesses.

But politicians and developers say they aren't interested in creating a new Wicker Park.

"I think the alderman's vision is to keep (businesses) family-owned but to attract a Starbucks to complement the existing mom-and-pop establishments" said John Molloy, a project manager with the city's planning and development division.

"Bridgeport will always be Bridgeport, always a family-oriented community," Balcer said.

Developer DeGrazia said he's also committed to retaining Bridgeport's character.

"The big concern is we want to keep it affordable (for) people who've been here for years," he said. "It's very important to me."

Friedl can't ignore the changes in his neighborhood, but he remains optimistic that his gallery has found a permanent home.

"If the arts get established down here, then I have great hopes that this can stay for a much longer time than any other development that I've been able to witness in Chicago."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Response to Tribune


Politics should play no part in development

Published June 11, 2007

This is in response to "Clout helped build flawed luxury homes; City missed defects in Bridgeport Village plans" (Page 1, June 3). The Tribune's feature on clout in the Bridgeport Village development properly examines the role that clout-heavy politics played in creating problems at this award-winning development. As the article reports, that is the subject of a federal lawsuit I filed, but I write here concerning the structural soundness of the homes. The full facts tell a different story.

First, the article describes supposedly "flawed" homes -- downplaying the fact that when I was managing the project until June 2005, reputable engineers vouched for their structural soundness.

The article omits the fact that in June 2005, the building commissioner wrote to the mayor's office that there is no hazardous condition or imminent danger in the homes' structure. He noted that 30,000 similarly constructed homes were built in Chicago over the past 20 years. Yet the City of Chicago is pursuing only Bridgeport Village. Could politics be involved? In Chicago? In the 11th Ward?

The opening sentence claims "a gusty wind" tore apart "a two-story home in the later stages of construction."

In fact, that home had just been started -- it was an exposed wooden framework without bracing or interior walls -- as can be seen in the accompanying photograph showing little debris. Big difference! No engineer has suggested that the supposed structural problem caused this frame to blow down.

The article gives prominence to a disgruntled subcontractor, who left because of a financial dispute and hired an engineer. That engineer, however, never visited the site, relied on drawings that were not structural blueprints and drew inaccurate conclusions based on a series of false assumptions.

The article ends with an anecdote about a couple (who were so pleased with their first Bridgeport Village home that they decided to "upgrade") who complained about problems in their second house. This home is 25 feet wide, not one of the 20-foot models that have the supposed structural issue. When the city improperly shut the project down in mid-winter 2005, this home was incomplete and lacked windows. The city refused our requests to enclose this home, which exposed it for months to Chicago weather.

The homeowners should be assured, as I was when I was manager, that their homes are structurally sound. If that is not the case, a reasonable fix should be employed.

But politics should play no part, and Bridgeport Village should not be unfairly singled out.

Thomas Snitzer, Chicago

Friday, June 8, 2007

Bridgeport on Wikipedia

Bridgeport is a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, USA. It is one of 77 official community areas of Chicago. Historically and still today, a large section of the neighborhood has served as an enclave of the Irish-American community in Chicago, as large numbers of immigrants from Ireland settled in this working class neighborhood beginning in the 1830s. Many of the same Irish immigrants who helped build the Erie Canal later came to Chicago to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Because of inadequate funding for the project, the State of Illinois began issuing "Land Scrip" to the workers rather than paying them with money. A large number of those Irish-Americans who received the scrip used the scrip to purchase canal-owned land to settle at the northern end of the canal, at its junction with the south branch of the Chicago River which is near the original Bridgeport village, named Hardscrabble, centered on what is now the diagonal section of Throop Street [1], the northwest side of the present day official Bridgeport community area. See also South Side Irish and Finley Peter Dunne. Dunne's Mr Dooley charcacter lived on "Archey Road" (present day Archer Avenue, Chicago ) in Bridgeport.

Bridgeport has also been home to a large number of Lithuanian-Americans, particularly along Lituanica Avenue, which runs between 31st and 35th Streets one block west of Halsted. Today, there are also large numbers of first and second generation Mexican-Americans who, like the Irish immigrants of the mid-late 19th Century, also settled in the Bridgeport area due to its affordability and proximity to their work.

Bridgeport is home to two magnificent churches in the so-called Polish Cathedral style: St. Mary of Perpetual Help and St. Barbara in Chicago. Visible from both the Stevenson Expressway as well as the Dan Ryan, these monumental edifices tower over the neighborhood. The Art Institute of Chicago has recently done restoration work on the historic paintings in the Shrine Altars at St. Mary of Perpetual Help which date back to 1890, and plans are in the works to restore the beautiful stained glass windows and to complete the painting of the interior ceilings and dome.

Although it is often stated that the Chicago White Sox' home field, U.S. Cellular Field, is in Bridgeport, the stadium is actually located one block to the east, in the small Armour Square neighborhood.

The father-son mayors of Chicago, Richard J. and Richard M. Daley, are both Bridgeport natives.

Bridgeport has been the home of five of Chicago's 45 mayors. They are, in order, Edward Kelly, Martin Kennelly, Richard J. Daley, Michael Bilandic, and Richard M. Daley. At one point, Bridgeport held the mayor's office for 46 straight years.

According to the 2000 Census, the population of Bridgeport is 33,694.

Stay Green with Orange Line El Commuting Convenience

If you do not like to drive to work from Birdgeport Village you can take a few steps across archer, to the Ashland Orange Line stop. 5 Mins for fast walkers, 10 Minutes for slow walkers, and people with small children.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tribune Response to Sunday Paper Article

Dear Editor-

The image of what is arguably the best planned community of single family homes in the City, Bridgeport Village, was unfairly tarnished on the front page of last Sunday's edition.

As a homeowner and resident of Bridgeport Village, I don't pretend to understand the murky reality of 11th Ward politics. What is clear, however, is that a well-constructed negative PR campaign waged by a disgruntled contractor coupled with the plight of a few unhappy homeowners along with City politics gone awry, made for an intriguing and titillating story for Tribune readers. The inclusion of a photo of a simple wood frame structure with no internal walls, bracing, windows or exterior masonry which collapsed during a severe windstorm added an extra punch of drama.

While the City inasmuch admitted that they did not and could not execute the proper oversight for a development of its size, many mistakes were also made by the Managing Partner and construction team during the initial construction of homes at Bridgeport Village. This included the mismanagement of contractors and their subs, mishandling of permits and general disregard for homeowners' concerns. As such, both parties share the blame for the building code violations cited in the article.

Once the City of Chicago re-focused itself, the previous Manager/Partner and General Contractor were removed and investment partners Kinsella & Diamond took control, any and all code violations were addressed and a long and expensive road to remediating homeowner's problems began. In atypical fashion, Mssrs. Kinsella and Diamond worked diligently and tenaciously at fixing not only the mundane (i.e. leaking windows and roofs) but potentially more serious matters identified by subsequent City inspections. Their efforts, genuine responsiveness and concern for the well-being and safety of residents have provided my family and other families with safe and comfortable homes.

Undoubtedly, many readers were left with the impression that all of the homes in Bridgeport Village share the same problems, are flawed and are in imminent danger of collapse. This implication is itself, flawed. The reality is that a majority of homes in Bridgeport Village have no code violations whatsoever.

What we have at Bridgeport Village is truly unique; an oasis of green space in the heart of the City bordered by an ever-improving Chicago River, inhabited by families which are not just neighbors, but are in the truest sense, family.

We are proud of our homes and our community and know that, unlike our homes; the negative PR will "blow over". What will remain is a legacy that will far outlast the tactics of a disgruntled contractor, the complaints of a few unhappy homeowners not to mention shameful City politics and back room deals.


Thomas Krueger

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Positive Spin on an Positive Community

River Walk, botanical diversity, happy families playing in the many green spaces, more development to come, large high quality single family homes, great construction, amazing value for money. Fodder for Chicago paparazzi. Diamond in the rough, great future investment, close to down town, close to public transportation, cheaper price per square foot than any other single families in town.

More details and posts, with pictures to come.