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Emanuel cuts ribbon on ‘catalytic converter’ he says will drive Englewood growth

The city's new fleet management facility has opened at 69th and Wentworth. The facility, shown here while still under construction, will be an economic driver for the neighborhood, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. | Google Streetview

Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the ribbon Thursday on a $28 million project he called the “catalytic converter” driving continued rebirth of Chicago’s impoverished-but-rebounding Englewood community.

The city’s fleet maintenance facility — located for years on prime riverfront land in the North Branch Industrial corridor — has reopened on a 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 roughly 300 employees moving from the North Side to the South Side.

The influx of employees not only will add activity and security to a long-challenged community, but also drive new restaurants and retail to a neighborhood that already has a new Whole Foods, a new Starbucks and Chipotle and will soon have a new state-of-the-art high school to replace several shuttered high schools.

That’s in addition to the City Colleges of Chicago having relocated many of its central office employees to the new Kennedy-King College, at 6301 S. Halsted St.

“All jobs that didn’t exist … today, exist in Englewood. And each one has its own ripple effect and the capacity to add more jobs because more people have confidence,” Emanuel said.

“Which is why they’re now calling the alderman saying, `How do I put a housing project up there? … How do I get a new shop?’ And then, it has its own kind of catalytic converter and starts adding up on its own. But it needs the government to give it a push and a shove.”

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was truly a celebration, Emanuel acknowledged Englewood is “not out of the woods.” But he argued there is no stopping the momentum built by Whole Foods, the fleet maintenance facility, a soon-to-be-built early childhood center and a new high school he claims “will compete in modernization with what Peyton and North Side [Prep] have, right here in Englewood.”

“How many years have we sat here [and said], ‘Can’t happen in Englewood. Too hard. You can’t turn it around’?” Emanuel said.

“Persistence pays off in politics. Perspiration pays off in politics. Finding consensus pays off in politics. Let’s use this momentum now to push forward.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes the project, acknowledged 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.

“Quite honestly, it was roundly criticized. A lot of people said it was just moving one problem to another area that was challenged. I said just the opposite. … These are the cornerstones that help us build our neighborhood,” Sawyer said.

“As you have projects like this — capital development projects — smart businessmen follow. They know when there’s 300 people making a decent wage. They have to eat. They have to clean their clothes. They have to shop. They have to bank.”

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.

The sale of previously-protected industrial land was so lucrative, the city also used the proceeds to overhaul the 311 non-emergency system and to help build a new police and fire training academy.

“When I wanted to do it early on, we got offered $54 million. [I said], `Ain’t worth the headache.’ Four years later, nothing different. Same salt. Same trucks. $110 million bucks,” the mayor said.