No honeymoon for Brandon Johnson — at least not with Fulton Market Association

Just as the new mayor settled into his first full workday at City Hall, Fulton Market restaurant owners and business and community leaders were making demands.

SHARE No honeymoon for Brandon Johnson — at least not with Fulton Market Association
Exterior of the McDonald’s headquarters building in Chicago’s Fulton Market district.

Exterior of the McDonald’s headquarters building in Chicago’s Fulton Market district

Sun-Times file photo

There won’t be any honeymoon for Mayor Brandon Johnson — at least, not if the Fulton Market Association has anything to say about it.

Just as Johnson was settling into his first full workday at City Hall, restaurant owners, business and community leaders in that burgeoning Near West Side neighborhood were making demands of Chicago’s 57th mayor.

Besides demanding 5,000 more surveillance cameras to stop violent crime, the leaders said they would oppose any new or increased taxes until existing tax increment finance funds are raided and the TIF system is reformed.

And they want to spend an avalanche of federal and state infrastructure funds on several transportation projects:

• Restore the CTA’s Lake Street bus.

• Build a Green Line station at Western Avenue.

• And “finally” fix what they call the “Lake Street death trap” — a narrow, three-mile stretch of that street with center-lane columns supporting the L tracks above. The narrow lanes, combined with the support beams, create a situation that’s been blamed for a string of fatal accidents.

Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, noted that $1.3 billion sits in the “top 10 TIF’s alone.”

In Fulton Market, where the surrounding TIF has a $270 million balance, a sidewalk café was “shot up” last fall in an area that has “no police cameras,” he said.

“We know we can use TIF money to put up cameras. That should be the most urgent priority — to use that TIF money and put those cameras up and especially put them up where we have high-crime rates. … This is a massive, citywide, secretive slush fund,” he said.

Johnson spokesman Ronnie Reese could not be reached for comment.

During his inaugural address, Johnson reiterated the need for new revenue to “invest in people” while eliminating Chicago’s “structural deficit.”

“We have to do that without breaking the backs of working people with fines, fees and property taxes,” the mayor said.

Romanelli stood his ground.

“Zero new taxes until the mayor gets the TIF program 100% reformed and transparent. Show us whether the billions in TIF taxes that have already been paid can cover what he wants to do,” Romanelli said.

“He wants to reopen mental health clinics. OK, where do you want to open them? You might have TIF funds to reopen your mental health clinics. We think the money is there in those secretive TIF pots.”

Other West Side businesses are also concerned about crime.

Len DeFranco is part-owner of Hawkeye’s Bar & Grill, 1458 W. Taylor St. The restaurant was robbed three weekends ago — the second time in a year. Thieves broke in through a window early one morning and stole an office safe.

Bar videos captured the crime, but there is no camera on the street, and no arrests have been made.

DeFranco said he is “starting to lose employees” on the early and late shifts due to brazen robberies.

“I don’t blame ’em. A lot of these are kids,” he said.

“If I wanted to sell, somebody would be buying a hornet’s nest. … So, it’s kind of huge. It may not be immediate, like they’re tearing down or burning down the building. But it’s the same thing. It’s the continuing devolution of the city and the ability to play, work, make a living, take care of your family in certain regions of the city,” DeFranco said.

Business has also suffered from the double-whammy of violent crime and construction delays on the Kennedy Expressway, DeFranco said.

“We get a lot of UIC students. … They just walk down, and I guess they’re fine. But in terms of ... having people come from the suburbs to enjoy the games or take our buses that go to the United Center, we see a drop-off there. I would say it’s cut in half. They’re afraid,” he said.

DeFranco didn’t mince words about Johnson’s plan to tax businesses and wealthy Chicagoans.

“Be careful. That might be the nail in the coffin. It’s hard enough to make a living with a business in the city. Then, to have to pay more out would be irresponsible from the city’s perspective. And that may be what drives a lot of people to just shut the door,” he said.

Mary Kay Tuzi owns Twin Anchors Restaurant, 1655 N. Sedgwick St. in Old Town, a neighborhood also affected by “the mob stuff we had last summer, to the carjackings, to houses being broken into, to people being robbed on the street.”

Tuzi’s family bought the restaurant in 1978.

“We haven’t seen the rash of break-ins like some of the other places on Wells Street have,” she said. “But there’s definitely been an uptick in the crime and concern from everybody that something needs to be done.”

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