Earlier this week I drove to Springfield. What I did there was less important than what I experienced: Warm air, sunny skies and the unmistakable smell of late spring, early summer. Birds tweeted, and the scent of lilacs served to remind me that we’re heading into the time of year when living in the Midwest is pretty great.
So if you’re going to be in Chicago this weekend, make sure you take a walk, ride a bike, or maybe set up a radio outside and barbecue. Talk about baseball or nothing at all important so you can absorb the greatness of living in this place we call home. Because for the next five months, it is the best city in the world.
1. Mayor Shuffles His Leadership Team
Maybe Fridays are a good day for announcing personnel changes, since it gives everyone the weekend to settle down with the changes.. So, Mayor Rahm Emanuel teed up a few people for new offices.
- Randy Conner is the new Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management, replacing Barrett Murphy, whom the Sun-Times reports was fired because he tolerated a culture of racism.
- Samantha Fields is the new Budget Director, replacing Alexandra Holt, a 20-year veteran of City Hall..
- Rosa Escareno is the new Commissioner of BACP, replacing Samantha Fields. Escareno was Deputy Chief Operating Officer, working for COO Joe Deal.
The mayor also announced four-year reappointments for Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Chief Procurement Officer Jamie L. Rhee.
It’s important to note that with all of the leadership changes among mayor staff over the last two years, it’s almost entirely internal promotions, with very few hires from outside–never mind recruits from outside Chicago. Yes, we can homegrow good people here, but now and then, shouldn’t we expect an inspired person that wants to work in city government for a change?
2. However Much CPS Owes, They Don’t Have It
No matter how you look at it, funding for Chicago Public Schools is a complete disaster. Yes, CPS has been running a structural deficit and cooking the books for years to cover it up (my favorite move, using 14 months of revenue to pay for 12 months of operations in 2014), but those problems have been magnified many times over by state government’s total gridlock.
As you’ve read here before, CPS was counting on a $215 million bailout package passed through the state legislature in October with a bi-partisan vote. But, surprising everyone, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the spending. In response, CPS laid administrators off and made $104 million in mid-year cuts. It still wasn’t enough to fill the gap.
Aldermen, anticipating they’ll be asked to bailout CPS with city money (CPS and the City of Chicago are two separate units of government), started agitating for specific details on how much CPS owes and when.
In response, city CFO Carole Brown announced Wednesday afternoon that the state is late in making $467 million in grant payments.
Wait, what? How much?
We checked with the Illinois State Board of Education, and yes, it seems that the state is late on a pretty big bill.
Most of what CPS needs to come up with is for a $720 million pension payment due June 30. So how will it pay the difference?
Brown wasn’t saying on Wednesday and no other plans have been released since, but budget officials anticipate a resolution in the coming weeks.
One more thing: As soon as CPS figures out how to pay that big bill on June 30, they have a close to $1 billion structural deficit they’ll have to work out for the 2017-18 school year.
3. North Branch Developers Rev Their Engines
There isn’t a more anticipated development gold rush than the North Branch Industrial Corridor. Wedged between North Center, Lincoln Park, West Town and Wicker Park along the Chicago River’s North Branch, the area was designated one of Chicago’s first Planned Manufacturing Districts in the late 1980’s. As a PMD, the area could only be used for manufacturing purposes, keeping land values down. But, as the neighborhoods around it became tonier, the number of manufacturing jobs in North Branch fell.
This week, the Department of Planning and Development recognized those realities by releasing an ambitious draft framework that attempts to ensure the area will remain home to some jobs, while giving developers plenty of red meat.
[Listen to DPD Commissioner David Reifman talk about some of what’s to come at our March Event.]
The framework limits residential development to only 50% of the area, while planning for interesting ideas like a new riverwalk, a north-south transitway limited to bikes and public transit, extending the 606 walk across the river and adding new “smart” traffic signaling.
The changes announced are likely only the beginning of many changes for Chicago’s 26 industrial corridors. Last April Mayor Emanuel announced plans to reevaluate every industrial corridor and all 14 of the city’s PMDs.
The biggest winners in this PMD do-over by far are developers, especially Sterling Bay, which snapped up the old Finkl Steel site on Armitage, and Tribune Media, which owns the huge Freedom Center printing plant at Chicago Ave. and the river. Tribune Media has been seeking a developer partner. With the new proposed DS zoning, Tribune will be greenlighted to build a series of new residential towers.
Remember the old Illinois Central air rights area? That’s now called the New East Side, with over 15,000 new residents over the last 15 years and the 93-story Wanda Vista tower is under construction.
Expect North Branch to be as transformative as that.