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Hooray for Hollywood? Not among aldermen angered by street closings

Ald. Pat Dowell | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

Chicago’s burgeoning movie and television production industry has been a boon to the local economy that has brightened the image of a city also known as the murder capital of the nation.

But is it worth the inconvenience that it causes Chicago residents — in the form of street closures, parking bans and lost parking meter revenue that must be paid to the company that leased the city’s meters?

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) asked that question during City Council budget hearings Monday, then answered it by saying it might not be worth the trouble unless her South Loop residents get more advance notice of street closings tied to movie and television productions.

“If you guys do not stop putting parking restrictions in the South Loop one or two days before you’re gonna film, I’m gonna have to ban you all out of the South Loop by ordinance,” Dowell told Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly.

“You all are interrupting residential permit perking, parking on commercial [streets] for commercial store owners, and it’s not enough time. You all err on the side of what the movie and television production people want and not on the side of what’s in the best interest of the residents who pay taxes and live there.”

Kelly responded to Dowell’s warning with an almost obligatory, “I hear you.”

The commissioner offered to arrange a meeting between Dowell and film and TV production chief Rich Moskal to “explore” the changes the aldermen is seeking. He acknowledged the industry “puts pressure on a city” and “takes a toll on neighborhoods.”

But Kelly also talked about the annual impact that movie and television production has had on Chicago’s economy: $28 million in direct tax revenue, $500 million in economic activity, 13,000 city jobs.

Kelly’s prepared statement says “an unprecedented nine TV series and studio features” have filmed in Chicago this year.

From 2011 to 2015, the statement claims film, TV and commercial production generated “$1.3 billion locally.”

“We have to balance what has become a true industry in the city, an important one, that makes the city look better in the national news,” Kelly said.

“We’re in a very competitive place. There’s about five or six cities that actually exceed Chicago. The industry that’s strong today could not be strong in the future. So, there’s a balancing act there.”

Dowell countered, “When ‘Chicago P.D.’ and ‘Chicago Fire’ want to film all the time in that part of town, I’m not sure what they’re providing to the community. And I’m not sure of how thoughtful they are about the people who live there.”

Dowell wasn’t the only alderman to complain about the local impact of movie and television production.

Seven other council members – Brian Hopkins (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Michael Scott (24th), Walter Burnett (27th),  Jason Ervin (28th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) – joined the parade of aldermen demanding a longer lead time for local residents, door-to-door notification with “specifics” of street closings and smaller areas impacted.

Waguespack said his residents “don’t always buy the economic impact argument.”

“Try to tell that to a resident or business that gets their car towed — or a principal whose school drop-off zone is blocked off. I can’t repeat what is told to us on the phone,” Waguespack said.

“When they see three blocks of cars towed or moved out of the way, hopefully before they get towed, then half-a-block or a corner being used for that film shoot, they get very angry.”

Ervin said the “oohs and aahs” that greet recognizable stars quickly dissipate into, “When are they leaving?”

“We like it, but we also need to help mitigate the impact,” the alderman said.

Ervin also questioned whether minorities are benefiting from the 13,000 jobs.

“If you walk through these studios, the number of African-Americans, the number of Hispanics that you see are few and far between, other than the guy doing security or the guy hustling busing the table for catering,” he said. “If this is gonna benefit the city, let’s benefit everyone.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) questioned the city’s policy of “subsidizing metered parking displaced” by movie and television production by making whole the company that leased Chicago parking meters.

Last year, Dowell complained to Kelly about the number of days when Chicago festivals force the closing of Columbus Drive.

In response, Kelly moved Blues Fest to Millennium Park. That paved the way for an 18 percent reduction in the number of days Columbus Drive is closed to traffic — from 50 days in 2016 to 41 days.