Month: January 2017

D209 Community Town Hall Sparks Optimism

Proviso East High

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || By Thomas Vogel 

Dozens of Forest Parkers gathered Jan. 24 at Forest Park Village Hall to share ideas about improving Proviso District 209, to meet school leadership — including newly hired Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez — and to brainstorm solutions to several persistent issues, including student underachievement.

The town hall-style get-together is part of a series of meetings organized by District 209, with school officials and board of education members heading to each Proviso feeder community to hear from community members and parents. D209 hired Rodriguez in July 2016, a year after a new slate of reform-minded members, including two from Forest Park, joined the high school board and signaled a renewed effort to revive the troubled school district.

“We have competition. We have many schools in the area,” Rodriguez said. “But we love our public schools and we can compete. Our public schools need to serve our families.”

The town hall featured remarks by Supt. Rodriguez, Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone and several school principals. District 91 officials, including Supt. Louis Cavallo, and board of education members Mary Win Conner and Eric Conner, were also in attendance, indicating the importance of cross-district collaboration.

“This is encouraging. There’s a renewed energy,” Calderone told the Review. “It has to start with parents. They have to say ‘We are taking charge.'”

The meeting’s several dozen attendees broke into three smaller groups — each led by one of Proviso’s three principals — to talk through concerns, express frustrations and ask questions. The discussions produced a wide-range of issues, including building maintenance, lackluster graduation rates, and the less-than-stellar public perception of D209, particularly in Forest Park.

Several attendees mentioned the need to shift the negative narrative surrounding Proviso schools. In years past, D209 made headlines for student fights and a fire, which forced class cancellations. Several attendees said the public’s view of Proviso has discouraged Forest Parkers from enrolling their children in the district.

Indeed, according to data provided to the Review by D209, there are 168 Forest Park students in the district’s three high schools as of January 2017. The only other community with fewer children enrolled is Northlake with 113 students. Other communities, including Maywood and Melrose Park, send a much larger student population to D209.

Even accounting for differences in general population, Forest Park still sends a relatively smaller group of students. Hillside, for instance, has around about six thousand fewer residents than Forest Park but sends nearly double the number of students — 324.

Forest Park has a troubled history with D209, including efforts to leave the Proviso school system several years ago. For decades, many Forest Parkers have opted to send their children to private or parochial schools instead and, save for this latest election, community representation on the board of education has not been robust.

Attendees acknowledged this history but also steered the evening’s conversations toward what is working well in the district, including more extracurricular activities, the district’s new leadership, and the feeling of renewed optimism from parents and community members.

The event concluded with attendees gathering in a circle and sharing one word to describe the past few hours. A sense of optimism was palpable as attendees chose words such as “inspired,” “empowered,” and “proud.”

Positivity aside, challenges still exist.  The district’s 2016 four-year graduation rate was 73.5 percent, more than 10 percentage points below the state average, according to the Illinois Report Card, the state’s official source. Other metrics, including the rate of graduating seniors enrolling in two- or four-year colleges is also below state average. District performance on statewide tests, including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) also leave plenty of room for improvement.

“It’s a work in progress,” Claudia Medina, one of two D209 board members from Forest Park, said. “We have to engage the community.”

A few attendees felt energized by the number of people at the meeting but mentioned the need to keep momentum moving forward.

“The turnout is good,” Forest Parker and Proviso East alum Jeremy Horn said. “It’s a stepping stone. Let’s support our high school district.”

Other expressed their approval for the new D209 administration.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Rodney Alexander said of Rodriguez’s leadership. “He’s engaged and has a pulse on the schools.”

Alexander said he’s already decided to send his young son, who is in fourth grade, to Proviso for high school. Alexander is running for a spot on the D209 Board of Education in the upcoming April 4 election.

“Change is possible when people get involved,” Alexander said. “We gotta roll up our sleeves.” VFP

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Maywood Man Charged With Hit-and-Run

watkinsTuesday, January 31, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

A Maywood resident was charged last week with aggravated reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident after leaving a pedestrian seriously injured during a Jan. 22 hit-and-run that happened at Roosevelt and Harlem in Forest Park, according to a Forest Park Review report.

Forest Park police arrested Xavier Watkins, 20, (pictured above) on Jan. 26. The following day, Watkins was charged and his bond set at $50,000, according to a Sun-Times report.

“Video footage from several red-light cameras near the accident showed a black sedan fleeing the scene and several witnesses gave possible partial license plate numbers,” the Review report notes.

The Sun-Times reports that the incident happened at around 10 p.m. The victim, the Sun-Times reports, was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center. Watkins is scheduled to appear in court in Maywood on Feb. 2. VFP

Photo courtesy Forest Park Police. 

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Check Out This Cool History of Melrose Park’s Kiddieland

Little Dipper_Kiddieland.png

Kiddieland’s Little Dipper. | The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal

Monday, January 30, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal recently posted a rather exhaustive history of that late, great icon of all things suburban nostalgia — Kiddieland in Melrose Park.

The park was the Depression-era creation of builder/contractor Arthur E. Fritz, who figured he would try his hand at family entertainment in order to make some money and, perhaps, reverse his misfortune.

“Fritz felt that in spite of hard times, parents still would try to save a few dimes for a little family entertainment,” the digital history notes. “His pony rides soon proved to be a popular attraction that allowed parents to forget their troubles temporarily while they watched their children smile and have a little fun.”

The rest, of course, would become local history. Read and see more by clicking here. The photos alone are worth your time. VFP

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50 Years After the ’67 Blizzard Postponed Their Wedding, They’re Still Having Fun


CAN I (STILL) HAVE THIS DANCE?: Lois and Ernie Baumann have some fun inside of the new Stairway of the Stars dance studio in Maywood. Below, the couple’s wedding photos from 50 years ago. The wedding was postponed because of the Blizzard of 1967, the worst snowstorm ever recorded in Chicago. || Top, William Camargo/Wednesday Journal | Below, photos submitted by the Baumanns

Lois and Ernie wedding photo_Page 4.JPGMonday, January 30, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Around this time 50 years ago, Maywood was digging itself out of the worst snowstorm ever recorded in the Chicago area. And Lois and Ernie Baumann were having the time of their lives.

On the day the blizzard hit — Thursday, Jan. 26, 1967 — Lois, now 69, was on a Blue Line train traveling into the Forest Park transit station. She was coming from taking classes at Roosevelt University and on her way to pick up her bride’s dress. Her and Ernie’s wedding was in two days.

“It was just an ordinary day,” Lois said during an interview last week. “But on my way home, the train — we called it the Des Plaines ‘L’ back then — came to a fierce halt in the middle of the Eisenhower. The windows on the train kept getting smaller, because the snow was covering them up so quickly. I looked around the car and thought, ‘I’m going to die with this group of people.’ We must have been stuck for two hours.”

According to the National Weather Service, the heaviest snowfall was in the late morning, with flakes accumulating at the rate of two inches an hour. Wind gusts blew up to 53 miles per hour and snowdrifts rose up to six feet high.

By the day’s end, roughly 23 inches of snow had ground city life to a halt, the Baumann’s wedding plans buried, along with everything else, by unprecedented mounds of snow.

“I had this feeling that another train was going to come and not see us,” said Lois. “I was thinking all kinds of things. There was no visibility here. I kind of realized then that the wedding might easily be sunk.”

The wedding, which had been scheduled to take place that Saturday at First Christian Church in Maywood, didn’t happen, of course. Air travel was suspended. Even those who lived in town, within blocks of the church, would find navigating the snowdrifts nearly impossible.

Their life plans interrupted, Lois and Ernie did what they’ve been doing for 50 years without ceasing and regardless of the conditions — whether epic snowstorm or fire or racial turbulence or economic decay — they had fun.

“We just went out in the snow and had a great time,” said Ernie, who had joined Lois during last week’s interview inside of the new dance studio the couple built last year through Maywood Fine Arts — the venerable nonprofit that was born from their wintry marriage 50 years ago.

Old newspaper clippings of Maywood residents handling the Blizzard of 1967, which halted Lois and Ernie Baumann’s wedding plans. | Maywood Herald

The Maywood-based organization serves over 1,000 kids a week from all racial, ethnic and income backgrounds — many of them from the West Side Austin community — with thousands more alumni, seemingly as numerous as flakes of snow in a blizzard, hailing from all over the country.

“My mother was real upset and was amazed at how calm I was,” said Lois, recalling how she handled her disrupted wedding plans. “I think, probably for my mother’s sake, I should’ve been more upset! But, you know, weddings weren’t the sit-down dinner, banquet, band, bore your friends for two hours affair they’ve become in the last 50 years. It was just a simple ceremony in the church and back to the house for sandwiches. That’s what we did.”

The Baumann’s wedding, which eventually took place a week later, on Feb. 4, 1967, is the ultimate emblem of the kind of resilience that’s kept their marriage, and their mission, going for half-a-century.

“The thing that bonded us from the very beginning was our commitment to children, and particularly, at that time, to the children in Maywood,” said Lois, who has lived her whole life in the village. “We saw the disparity in what was happening in the country. This was during the Civil Rights movement.”

‘Love at first sight’

The couple met in 1966, roughly three months before marrying. Lois was a waitress at a restaurant in Maywood and Ernie was the owner of a small shop in town called the Newspaper Store.

“People would go get their newspapers before they caught the train and on their way to work,” said Lois. “It was kind of one of those old-fashioned stores that was like a hangout. It was a lot of fun.”

“A hippie hangout,” is what Ernie calls it. It’s where he and Lois befriended people like the famous singer-songwriter John Prine, a native of Maywood who, along with Lois, attended Proviso East High School.

Ernie had stopped by the restaurant for a cup of coffee one day. Lois took his order — and, immediately, his heart.

“All I had to say was, ‘You want cream in your coffee, honey?’” Lois said. “Those were my first words to him. It was absolutely love at first sight.”

But love doesn’t automatically translate into a great marriage, the two recalled. Ernie, roughly eight years older than his wife, said the age difference may have been the source of some strain. Lois said their strong personalities might have signaled disaster for the union if it hadn’t been for their mutual love of children and their penchants for movement.

Not long after marrying, the couple began coordinating recreational programming for the Maywood Recreation Department. Lois taught dance and Ernie taught tumbling.

“You had two counselors present all day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you had set activities that the kids did each day in those parks, so that the children in the neighborhood left their houses,” Lois recalled.

Eventually, Ernie said, their tumbling and dance classes began to grow exponentially, precipitating something of a philosophical standoff with village officials.

“We did everything — bike parades, canoe trips, everything you can of,” he said. “We had the support of the director, but what kind of happened with the dancing was the program got so good and enrolled so many people that they saw this as a cash cow. They wanted to start raising the prices. We said, wait a minute. You’re eliminating people by doing this, which is not the way it should go. So, we left and started our own thing and ran it how we thought it should be run.”


Stairway of the Stars dancers rehearse on a recent Saturday. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Their affordable array of artistic programming, many of their patrons say, has been a beacon of light for communities like Maywood and Austin, where, over the last 50 years, recreational options and park district programming have declined markedly.

Between 1970 and 1980, according to U.S. Census data, the population of Maywood changed from 60 percent white to 75 percent black. In addition, the suburb lost more than 2,000 residents, along with thousands of manufacturing jobs and a plethora of small businesses.

“We thought we could really impact things,” said Ernie. “We were right in the middle of ‘White Flight’ and people would come to our doors and say, ’Look we can buy your house. You’re leaving aren’t you?’ We go, ‘Huh? We ain’t going anywhere.’”

During the same 10-year period, Austin, where many of MFA’s patrons live, went from 90 percent white to over 90 percent African American.

As those areas underwent swift racial change and dramatic economic decline, the Baumann’s philosophy of offering affordable programming despite the growing numbers remained unchanged.

In 1979, having decided to strike out on their own, Lois and Ernie bought a three-story building located at 20 N. Fifth Ave. (the former Maywood Opera House), which would anchor their newly formed artistic enterprise, and its flagship programs — Mr. Ernie’s Flip, Flop and Fly tumbling school and Stairway of the Stars, which offers a range of dancing instruction (from classical ballet to tap and jazz).

In 1996, Maywood Fine Arts was incorporated as a nonprofit and the Baumanns purchased a historically significant, boarded up bank property on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Lake St. The additional square footage would allow the organization to provide a wide array of program offerings, including music, visual arts, drama and karate classes.

The Baumann’s son, Spooner, who handles communications for MFA and sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors, was a year old when his family opened the first Stairway of the Stars dance studio — so-named for the 44 stairs that led to the building’s top floor.

“I have a picture of me as a one-year-old in my uncle’s arms in front of the building,” said Spooner, one of the Baumann’s six children — all of whom were born into their parents’ world of dance.

“I started dancing as young as I can remember. I grew up in that studio. There was no daycare, so I would go to work with [Lois], walking around the dance floors all day in my walker. As a teenager, I mopped the stairs.”


Dancers rehearse inside of Stairway of the Stars earlier this month. | VFP File

When the old Stairway of the Stars burned down in March 2010, Lois and her Stairway stars promptly moved rehearsals down the street to the First Congregational Church of Maywood. In no time, they were dancing again.

“We land on our feet,” Lois told a Chicago Tribune reporter at the time. “That’s what I teach [our] children, and it’s something we have to remember right now. We always land on our feet.”

Over the years, Stairway of the Stars and Ernie’s Flip, Flop and Fly have cultivated a network of professional dancers and artists that spans generations and time zones and encompasses people like Craig Hall.

Last May, Hall retired as a soloist with the New York City Ballet. He was the first African American dancer at NYCB to perform as Apollo during the company’s prestigious season-ending program “Dancer’s Choice.”

“The whole family was in Maywood Fine Arts,” said Hall’s mother, Dorothy, who added that her son started dancing with Lois when he was three years old.

At one point, Dorothy said, her son’s talents nearly overwhelmed her family’s finances. Help from the Baumanns kept young Hall pirouetting toward the bright lights.

“Lois would say, ‘He needs a costume for this and for that.’ I had five kids! But she always worked with us and always kept us going,” Dorothy recalled.

Craig, who has grown to become best friends with the Baumann’s daughter, Purdie, a Radio City Rockette, was at the grand opening of MFA’s new dance studio last August, the facility that replaced the old studio that burned down in 2010.

“When the old studio burned down, it was like a little piece of all of us was broken, but it’s nice to know that there’s finally a place where the kids can come back to and have fun,” said Hall, 37. “It’s a dream come true.”

The new studio features modernized shock-absorbent floors and wall-to-wall windows that offer views of a liquor store, a barber shop, a vacant lot and a boarded-up building. The studio’s Main Street-facing entrance resembles a train depot and is located less than a block away from railroad tracks.

“This building costs $2.1 million to build,” said Ernie as he sat in one of the facility’s airy, light-filled dance studios. “People in the banking community told us that if we built property here, it would be worth $1 million less. So, the property is worth about $1 million. But we don’t care. It can be valued at a dollar. It doesn’t make a difference. We’re having fun.”

“We believe in making a difference in children’s lives,” said Lois. “We don’t believe in doing it at a distance. It’s a hands on thing. We wouldn’t ever leave. It was never a question in our mind.”

And then, after contemplating the very strong possibility that MFA could be the catalyst that this corner of her hometown needs, Lois shared her most recent ambition.

“Boy, where did the 50 years go? I need 50 more, because I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to do.” VFP

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Letters: A Progress Report By Trustee Brandon

Portrait-BrandonMonday, January 30, 2017 || LETTERS || @maywoodnews

Around four months ago, I fulfilled a campaign pledge I made to you, the voters, that I would regularly update you on the progress we’ve made as a village while I’ve been a trustee. This second update is an extension of that pledge.

Since my last community report in September, Maywood has made significant progress on numerous fronts, but it’s always been my philosophy that progress demands a certain degree of dissatisfaction. So, although we’ve made strides, I’ve devoted my time on the board to ensuring that we continue to push ourselves as a village to do better.

Here are some of our successes and some ways that we can be even more successful.\

Public Safety

Last December, the board, along with the collaboration of the police department, began the process of modernizing our surveillance camera system with an agreement with Verizon to install several battery powered motion sensor cameras in the high-crime area near 17th and Madison St.

These cameras will be equipped with the latest Wi-Fi and energy-saving technology, enhancing the crime-fighting capabilities of our local police department.

In addition to making investments in our public safety infrastructure, the board also strengthened our ordinances so that we might crack down on businesses that sell illegal cigarettes, which are correlated with loitering problems.

These investments and policy adjustments, in addition to the great work of our police department, paid off. In 2016, the number of homicides in Maywood decreased by 62 percent from the number sustained in 2015. Overall crime is down as well.

But we can do better, which is why I’ve been advocating for the village to get much tougher on illegal fly-dumping.

I also was among board members who approved funding for our officers to go through de-escalation training, which will go a long way towards reducing the mounting costs of legal fees that result from complaints.

Lastly, we’re gearing up for our Fourth Annual Safe Summer Initiative, which is aimed at keeping our young people off the street.


Although the village’s unemployment rate is something that’s largely beyond the control of local elected officials, there are still things that we can do to make sure that as many of our residents who want them have access to jobs.

One of the most obvious ways to make that happen is by leveraging the power of our Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. Although funds from TIF districts are often used to give tax incentives and financial support to businesses either already here, or looking to come here, TIF money can also be spent directly on job development.

Even before I was elected trustee, I was a fierce advocate of the village using our TIF funds to pay for job training programs for our residents. Since my election, I’ve looked at how the Roosevelt Road TIF, which is active, can be leveraged in a partnership with Loyola University Medical Center — Maywood’s largest employer — to create a job-training program for residents who may want to go into the medical field.

I’ve also been working with Congressman Danny K. Davis’s office to create a program in Maywood that would help lower our unemployment rate and create jobs right here.

More immediately, I am currently working with the mayor’s office to plan a Put Maywood to Work Youth Job Fair, which will take place this April.

Economic Development

Since September, the board passed an ordinance that would prohibit the village from issuing any additional Class M Liquor licenses, which are issued specifically to video gaming establishments.

Although, as I’ve expressed in the past, I prefer to look at development on a case-by-case basis, I voted for the ordinance out of respect for the will of the people, a majority of whom voted in favor of the prohibition on a referendum during the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

The village has recently made significant investments in our infrastructure. Those investments, I believe, will enhance our ability to attract businesses to our town.

Not only did we break ground on a brand new, $2.3 million Metra train depot that is nearing completion, but we also voted on over $1 million of street repair projects throughout the village, which includes a project in one of our most important business districts.

In addition to those investments, the board recently voted on a series of zoning changes designed to lower the burdens for businesses looking to locate in Maywood.

But as I mentioned during board discussions of these changes, the zoning adjustments have to accompany more vigilance on the part of code enforcement to make sure that existing businesses, in addition to the village itself, are taking care of their properties.

Along with these infrastructure investments, I and my board colleagues have been working hard to assess the current state of our business climate and to make sure we attract new businesses to the village.

That means, literally, walking through sites like the former Maywood Market with prospective developers — one of whom is a grocer that sees potential in Maywood.

That also means attending conferences like the International Council of Shopping Centers and the National League of Cities summit in Pittsburgh in order to advocate for the village and to absorb information about economic development that might help me become a better steward of our local economy.

Community Outreach

But community is about more than jobs and businesses — it’s also about people. That’s why I’ve made sure to be a presence at schools, senior citizen homes, local restaurants and beyond.

This holiday season, for instance, I had the pleasure to read to students at District 89 schools and collaborated with Mayor Edwenna Perkins to deliver dinner to community members.

I also teamed up with the Maywood Fire Department Union to hand out food to seniors and with the mission outreach department of Progressive Life Giving Word Cathedral in Hillside to help administer their annual Soups Up event.

Turning to the youth, this year we’ll continue our National League of Cities youth program. Last year, I took five students from District 209 schools to Washington, D.C. This year, I’ll take eight students from District 209 schools and Walther Lutheran — my newest partner in this endeavor.

I also launched a series of community conversations in the village with residents in order to listen to their concerns. These conversations will be ongoing and will take place within businesses and homes.

As we head into Black History Month, I look forward to continuing to serve you in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., who authored one of my favorite prayers: “Use me lord, show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.” VFP

— Isiah Brandon, Maywood trustee

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Breaking: Seaway Bank Shut Down, Maywood Could Take Its Deposits Elsewhere, Says Village Manager

Seaway Bank Draped in Purple

Seaway Bank & Trust’s Maywood Branch. | File

Friday, January 27, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 1/28/17

Seaway Bank & Trust, the state’s largest black-owned minority bank and the sixth largest in the country, was shut down today by state bank regulators, according to multiple reports. According to a Crain’s report published today, all of the bank’s deposits and a majority of its assets will be transferred to State Bank of Texas, effective Saturday.

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, “All 10 branches of Seaway Bank and Trust will continue to be open during normal business hours under the new ownership, the FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] said. During the weekend, people with deposits will be able to access their money by writing checks or using ATMs or debit cards. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC.”

Crain’s reports that State Bank is based in Dallas and owned by Indian-Americans, not the kind of fate that Seaway’s African American owners had hoped for the 52-year-old institution. In the wake of recent financial struggles, the bank’s owners had sought out black investors to come to the rescue. Ultimately, however, that didn’t happen.

The bank’s failure means that the Village of Maywood, which still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits at Seaway, could go shopping for another place to park that money even though the amount the village has with the failed bank is insured by the FDIC and isn’t required to be collateralized.

“Essentially, the money that’s held at Seaway is below the [$250,000] federal [threshold], so if there is a failure we don’t lose any money nor are we at a capacity where the money has to be collateralized,” said Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr. during an interview today.

Late last year, the village transferred funds from its corporate, water and escrow accounts from Seaway to Hinsdale Bank.

“Several months ago, the issue was to get us below the level at which funds need to be collateralized,” Norfleet said. “Hinsdale Bank came in and we moved money from those accounts and only wired money to Seaway when checks had to be cleared, so if the bank failed we’d be covered by federal insurance.”

Norfleet said that the village still banks with Seaway to cover payroll and water payments, among other matters. Last year, he said, Seaway officials approached Maywood requesting that the village take out any money that would put it over the level at which it would need to collateralize its deposits.

For the bank, the collateralization meant additional costs that only added to its already strained finances.

“They were trying to say, ‘Hey, it’s not like we’re kicking you out, but you can’t be here and have a risk because [the bank] will have a problem, too,'” Norfleet said, adding that the village might consider other banks to park its deposits.

“That’s always on the board, continuously, it’s just that we didn’t formally bid out [to other banks] to take all of our funds,” he said. “Eventually, though, we’ll have to take [our money out of Seaway].

“The issue, however, is that Hinsdale doesn’t have [a sufficient amount of readily available] checks. We have to have a whole bunch of checks to keep operating. If you’re going to switch over, you have to have those checks from the other bank to cut. Another thing with Hinsdale is that there isn’t a close physical location to take deposits. So, there are logistical challenges.”

When asked if the village would consider transferring its deposits to nearby U.S. Bank, which has a Maywood branch at the corner of Madison St. and 5th Ave., Norfleet said that the possibility prompts other concerns.

“How much do they really want to take?” Norfleet said. “We think banks are just happy to take money, but they have to pay service fees, accumulate charges and then they have to collateralize because that costs money. So, they have their own expenses associated with [large accounts]. The bank is a business, too.”

Seaway has branches in Maywood, at 150 S. 5th Ave., and Broadview, at 2100 Roosevelt Rd., both of which will be affected by the closure.

According to Crain’s, with Seaway having failed, only one black-owned bank remains in the Chicago area — Illinois Service Federal.

“That bank, also in danger of failing, was rescued early last year with $9 million from a Ghanian-American family, keeping it black-owned,” Crain’s reported, adding that the FDIC has estimated that Seaway’s failure “would cost its insurance fund $57.2 million. The FDIC retained $52 million of Seaway’s assets for later sale.” VFP

To read the full Crain’s report, click here.To read the full Tribune report, click here.

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Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview Property Owners Voted in Favor of Expressway Noise Walls

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 6.09.48 PM.png

An illustration of a proposed noise wall barrier at Bataan Dr. and 18th Ave. in Maywood. Click the image above to see more visualizations of proposed noise barriers. | Illinois Department of Transportation 

Friday, January 27, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Last year, the Illinois Department of Transportation surveyed community members who own properties near the Eisenhower Expressway to gauge their interest in having noise walls constructed in those areas as part of a $2.7 billion improvement project.

The project includes the proposed modernization of the Des Plaines Blue Line terminal and the proposed addition of high occupancy toll lanes designed to improve traffic flow and cut travel times, among other upgrades.

Detailed results of those surveys, released by IDOT in December as part of an over 2,200-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement, show that property owners in those affected areas in Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood voted overwhelmingly in favor of the noise walls.

“In order for a person to be eligible to vote, the noise wall must decrease the noise level at the property by at least 5 decibels, which is a readily perceptible change in noise (typically homes within 300 feet of a noise wall),” according to IDOT. “Anything less than 5 decibels is barely detectible by the human ear, therefore a noise wall would not provide any perceptible benefit.”

IDOT officials mailed out ballots to residents at least twice in some areas, seeking to generate a response rate of least 33 percent of eligible voters. If the response rate from the first mailing was not 33 percent, then a second mailing was sent. If more than half of eligible property owners voted in favor of a wall, then the noise wall construction would likely be included in the overall $2.7 billion project and paid for by IDOT.

“Non-standard features, or enhanced aesthetics, will be subject to municipal cost participation,” according to IDOT. “Individual property owners would not be asked to pay for a noise wall.”

IDOT officials said that while the state would be responsible for maintaining the walls’ structural integrity “and the appearance of the ‘expressway’ side of the wall (i.e., graffiti removal),” local municipalities would “be asked to maintain the appearance of the ‘community’ side of the wall, in addition to any non-standard or enhanced features.”

Of the nine community areas along the Eisenhower spanning Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood that were polled, only two contained a majority of participating voters who didn’t support the construction of the walls. 

Voters with properties north of I-290, between 9th Ave. and 5th Ave., and those with properties north of I-290, between 5th Ave. and 1st Ave., voted down the middle — with 50 percent in favor of, and 50 percent against, the walls.

Those areas needed more than half of eligible voters to cast ballots in support of the walls in order for them to be included in the project plan.

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 6.01.44 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 5.56.57 PM.png

The average barrier height and construction costs for proposed noise barriers spanning Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood. Click the image above and scroll to page 31 to see the chart closer.

At a Jan. 25 public meeting held at Proviso Math and Science Academy, where the EIS was a central point of discussion, IDOT officials said it could be several years before construction starts on the noise walls. In addition, they said, residents in the affected areas may have the opportunity to chime in on the appearance of the walls at a later date.

“This project will take two four-year periods,” said Pete Harmet, of IDOT. “The first four years will [deal with] overhead bridges and the next four years with mainline construction. We wouldn’t design it all at one time. The noise wall might be something at the latter part of the eight years. The thing is, we don’t have a schedule for when that eight years starts at this point. I would just say a number of years now, but it would just be complete speculation as regards to when.”

Some residents at Wednesday’s meeting wanted to know where the federal funding would come from now that President Donald Trump is in office.

“You stated that phase two and beyond is not funded and we do have a new administration in Washington,” said Monica Thomas, of Maywood. “What are the chances of getting this project funded?”

Harmet said that he “can’t speculate now what will happen,” but that IDOT is still developing a financial plan to look at various funding mechanisms.

“If there is a new transportation program in Washington, we’re certainly going to look and see how the Eisenhower Project would fit into that. We would start off with a financial analysis here and we’d also be observing what transpires in Washington.” VFP

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