Civilian oversight wasn’t the only thing the City Council delivered Wednesday to bridge the gap between citizens and police. The same goes for the Boys & Girls Club that will be built on the campus of the police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park.
Before adjourning for the summer, aldermen agreed to lease 20,000 square feet of land on the 34-acre-campus to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago at $1 a year for up to 75 years.
That will allow the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago to build an $8 million, 18,000 square foot youth development center with an open-air plaza between the club and the training academy in the 4400 block of West Chicago Avenue.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes the site, called it a “history-making moment” for the West Side.
“When I first came in, the first thing I asked for was a youth center for our children. It took me 21 years. But, we are here today. Nothing is more important,” Mitts said Wednesday.
“It’s going to be an opportunity where those young people who were out celebrating Saturday night where five of`em got shot in my ward — they could … have been at that Boys & Girls Club holding their event inside of that space.”
Mitts argued Chicago in general and the West Side in particular desperately need youth programming to provide a constructive alternative for young people in danger of joining gangs and becoming either the victims or perpetrators of violent crime.
“It’s an opportunity for every boy and girl to be able to have a safe place where parents can take their children … and teach them. Whether it’s a single mother or single dads out there, somebody has to look out for the kids. It is our responsibility for everybody to look out for each other’s children, no matter what race, creed or color. We’re supposed to look out for these children,” Mitts said.
Housing Committee Chairman Harry Osterman (48th) commended Mitts for the “strong perseverance … that will help her community and help young people.”
Referring to the historic vote earlier Wednesday on civilian oversight of CPD, Osterman said: “On this day when we try to bridge the gap between community and police, this is an opportunity to do that as well.”
West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) also applauded Mitts for “making sure” the controversial complex is “not just a public safety academy, but an amenity for the entire West side.”
Besides the club, two restaurants also are planned adjacent to the training academy.
Critics of the $95 million training academy have called it a symbol of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s misplaced spending priorities.
For years, it has drawn opposition from Chance the Rapper, college students in Chicago and across the nation and local youth organized online under the #NoCopAcademy banner.
During countless protests, they argued the money would be better spent on mental health initiative, as well as on recreational and education programs for young people.
When Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the decision to build the new Boys & Girls Club on the academy campus, the #NoCopAcademy movement called it a “slap in the face” to Black youth.
Before agreeing to bankroll the new facility, the Boys & Girls Clubs held a dozen focus groups with local youth, including students at Orr Community Academy.
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, according to Mimi LeClair, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago has told aldermen previously.
LeClair has assured aldermen there would be “no forced interactions” between young people and police.
“If there are one or two young people who are interested in this, we will work with them to pursue that. If there are more than that, we will work with them. But they set the tone. We are first and foremost about what … will make them feel emotionally, physically and psychologically safe,” she said.
Streamlined sign approval also OK’d
Aldermen on Wednesday also approved a compromise version of the stalled sign portion of Lightfoot’s pandemic relief package.
It allows aldermen to preserve their treasured “prerogative” while still speeding approval of sign permits for newly-reopened businesses struggling to attract customers.
If the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the local alderman agree a sign permit should be issued, Council approval of a sign ordinance would not be required. The permit could be issued in less than a month.
If there is a disagreement, the business must introduce an ordinance, in a process similar to disagreements over local zoning changes. The local alderman would then rely on his or her colleagues to oppose the permit.
The revised sign ordinance was approved only after Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) tried and failed to send the compromise back to committee.