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On November 9 the City Council's housing committee approved a plan to seize all of the property on the east side of the 4800 block of North Western, tear it down, and turn it over to a developer to build condominiums and a few retail stores.
If the plan is approved by the full council on December 12, more than 30 merchants -- including successful sporting goods store Chicago Soccer, a Walgreens, a dentist's office, and a furniture business -- will be tossed out of business. As TIF-funded eminent domain deals go, it's a whopper, even by Chicago standards.
At the first public hearing on the matter -- a Community Development Commission meeting in August -- more than 80 people showed up to protest. But only 12 showed up for housing committee meeting, and of those only four spoke out against the plan.
Housing committee member Ray Suarez (31st) swooped right in on this. "If, as you say, so many people oppose this, where are they?" he asked.
Imre Hidvegi, who co-owns Chicago Soccer, has to roll his eyes at that. "They called the meeting 24 hours before they held it, and then they held it on a Friday morning when most people have to get out to work," he says. "It's not surprising that so few people showed up."
Hidvegi's hoping to rally enough opposition to convince the council to kill the proposal -- a long shot since it has the backing of the local alderman, Eugene Schulter (47th). But at the very least Hidvegi wants to show the City Council that business owners and residents alike are sick of being pushed around to make way for developers. As he says in an e-mail call to arms, "We are not blighted, and we are not for sale."
Hidvegi has set up a Web site, savelincolnsquare.com, and on Wednesday, December 5, will host an organizing meeting at 7 PM at Chicago Soccer, 4839 N. Western, 773-271-2255. It's open to all, and refreshments will be served.