Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday broke ground on a project he hopes will be a catalyst for development in the impoverished-but-rebounding Englewood community.
Chicago’s longtime fleet maintenance facility — located on prime riverfront land in the North Branch Industrial corridor — will be rebuilt on a vacant 12.5-acre site at 210 W. 69th St. that once housed Kennedy-King College.
There, snow plows, streetsweepers, police cars and fire trucks will be repaired and maintained by 220 employees moving from the North Side to the South Side.
The new headquarters for the city’s Department of Fleet and Facilities Management will also include carpentry, sheet metal, blacksmith and paint shops as well as administrative offices.
A $41.5 million contract also called for AECOM to build two smaller facilities: a vehicle repair shop 4241 N. Neenah and a fueling station at 1152 N. Branch St.
All three new projects are being bankrolled by selling the 18-acre North Branch site to mega-developer Sterling Bay for $104.7 million.
Emanuel argued that Fleet Management’s move to the South Side could not come at a better time.
Shootings in the Englewood police district have dropped 67 percent in two years. The mayor called it “the lowest level of shootings in Englewood in recorded time” and he credited both more police and “the new technology we’ve done on predictive analytics.”
He also touted the economic growth.
“You have a Whole Foods. You have a Starbucks. You have a Chipotle. You’ve got now 220 jobs coming that are part of the [fleet maintenance] facility. All of the snow trucks you see out there today — they’re gonna be fixed in Englewood. You have a coffee shop coming.”
The mayor said it’s not an accident that when City Colleges sold its downtown headquarters, 90 of those central office jobs were moved to the new Kennedy-King College.
“I’ve told every department head, every commissioner: `If it’s not nailed down, ask why it’s there. And if we can do better, let’s move it into our neighborhoods and [let it] become a vibrant economic engine,’ “ Emanuel said.
The current North Branch site “was valuable enough that, we can not only build this facility, but also, we’re gonna modernize 311 to make it a customized resident service interactive with mobile technology.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes the Kennedy-King site, has acknowledged that the fleet maintenance facility will merely “relocate” jobs from the North Side to the South Side. It will not bring any new jobs to Englewood. Still, Sawyer is excited that the project will do more than simply revive a long-dormant site.
“On the other side of the site, we also will have a retail corridor that we have not had in that area forever,” Sawyer told his colleagues on the day the AECOM contract was approved by a City Council committee.
“We’ve gonna bring 200-to-300 new people there who are gonna have to shop. They’re gonna have to eat. They’re gonna have to bank. The combination of all this will be an economic boon.”
Emanuel has spent much of his second term trying to prove that his development efforts are not downtown-centric. In part, it’s an effort to rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
The decision to relocate city facilities to inner-city neighborhoods is central to that effort.
In addition, Emanuel hired Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp to serve as a $185,004-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer. Zopp has since moved on to World Business Chicago.
The mayor also proposed: a series of incentive programs aimed at boosting minority contracting and employment; a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area; and a Robin Hood plan to let downtown developers build bigger and taller projects so long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.
Still, failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy accused the mayor of being part of a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of Chicago.