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Progress for Pullman artists lofts

A proposed affordable housing development for Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood appears to be gaining steam after a community meeting on Monday  addressed some residents’ concerns.

The Pullman Artspace Lofts would be geared toward artists in a yet-to-be-built 39-unit, three-story apartment complex at 111th Street and Langley Avenue, just west of the Bishop Ford Expressway.

“I think this is a terrific project,” attorney Leon Walker, who grew up near the Pullman area and now runs a law office located, said following the two-hour meeting where more than 150 people packed the offices of the Historic Pullman Foundation.

Walker says he’s excited about the idea of a housing complex that would be aimed at attracting artists to the neighborhood, designated a national monument by President Obama earlier this year.

“The artist community is fantastic for helping a neighborhood stabilize and to grow and recapture its strength again. Artists bring an activity, it really brings some vibrancy,” Walker said. “Kids get inspired by artists.”

The Pullman Artspace Lofts, touted as affordable, mixed-used housing, are backed by the Minneapolis-based Artspace, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and PullmanArts. VOA Associates is the architecture firm behind the project.

“Art-Space has been successful not only in Chicago but across the country. The impact could be tremendous in a community as you bring artists into that area,” Walker said.

At a previous meeting in early October, about 100 residents showed up and voiced concerns about whether the new structure would fit Pullman’s historic character.

Bob Vroman, who lives right across from where the new structure would be built, doesn’t think so.

“It is not a Pullman structure. It is not put on the original footprint of the Pullman buildings that were originally here,” Vroman said. “And now that we are a national monument, how they could get away with building anything other than a reproduction of the buildings that were here,” he continued. “It just doesn’t fit in.”

There was also concerns about whether the project would attract low-income tenants.

One resident at the meeting told Artspace officials that Pullman does not need affordable housing or more artists, and suggested the project might work better in a neighboring area such as Roseland or in North Pullman.

Artspace’s Sarah White had to fend off concerns that the complex could become part of the Chicago Housing Authority.

“We are not involved with CHA,” White said. “Artspace are stable, long-term owners.”

Compared to previous gatherings, there appeared to be fewer naysayers at Monday night’s meeting.

Lenny Carlson, who’s lived in Pullman for 20 years, came to the meeting to find out more after hearing negative reviews.

“The reason I’m here tonight is because someone came to my house who objected to it because it was low-income housing. I thought that is no reason not to look at a project. I wanted to find out more about it,” Carlson said. “I see nothing that says this is a  negative. I only see this a positive.”

Carlson’s wife, Helena Eckels, says she thinks the project is exciting.

“I love the idea that there will be more artists here in Pullman,” she said.

When asked if she feels the projects fits with Pullman’s history, Eckels says,”The town of Pullman was based on working-class people. Artists are working-class people. The architecture in Pullman is artwork. We’re talking about artists providing more artwork.”

Officials say at least one more community meeting will be scheduled before the end of the year.

Although more approvals are needed from the city, backers hope to have Pullman Artspace Lofts ready to accept tenants by early 2018.

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