Chicago Aldermen Delay Vote To Rename Lake Shore Drive After DuSable

Lake Shore Drive
Traffic flows along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Associated Press / Associated Press
Lake Shore Drive
Traffic flows along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Associated Press / Associated Press

Chicago Aldermen Delay Vote To Rename Lake Shore Drive After DuSable

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Lake Shore Drive will not be renamed for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the first Black non-Native resident known as the “Founder of Chicago” – at least not yet.

A parliamentary move during Chicago’s City Council meeting Wednesday shut down debate on the renaming and pushed the measure off until next month.

The proposal’s sponsors faced opposition from some colleagues and the mayor’s office over fears that renaming the iconic road would lead to a nightmare at the post office and for residents with thousands of address changes.

Ald. David Moore, 17th Ward, attempted to quell some of those concerns at a contentious committee meeting in late April, saying his proposal would only change the outer drive — not the inner, residential portion of the road. That meeting saw a shouting match between aldermen when the Chicago Department of Transportation tried to substitute Moore’s ordinance for one they said served the same purpose but cleared up confusing language.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the move to delay the vote Wednesday, saying she has concerns over changing the name of Chicago’s most well-known roadway.

“It’s one of the most iconic assets the city has. When you say Lake Shore Drive, people know you’re talking about Chicago. And I think that that’s very important,” Lightfoot said.

Moore, the sponsor of the proposed ordinance, said there was “no reason” for the delay and that he has the votes to pass the name change.

“It’s not fair to these children or people in the community that would benefit from the renaming,” Moore said. “The voices of the people are not heard.”

The effort to get DuSable recognized on a grand scale in Chicago is not new. In the 1990s, then-Ald. Toni Preckwinkle introduced her own ordinance to rename Lake Shore to DuSable Drive, the Chicago Tribune reported.

His name is already affixed to several existing institutions, including the DuSable Museum of African American History, a high school and a monument on Michigan Avenue. But proponents have argued the man deemed the city’s “founding father” deserves more.

“With the exception of the DuSable Museum and the little known recognition on the Chicago River, very few people, especially tourists and new Chicagoans, know DuSable as the founder of Chicago,” the ordinance reads.

When the item came up for a vote Wednesday afternoon, Lightfoot called on Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, who moved to “defer and publish” the measure. Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward, a supporter of the renaming, also had her hand up wishing to speak, but Lightfoot refused to call on her, prompting King to interrupt and ask for a legal opinion. Her request was ignored and no vote was taken.

The mayor said she has her own proposal to honor DuSable, which would create monuments with information about his life along the Chicago Riverwalk, and create a park in his name. She was light on details Wednesday but has previously said she would like to rename the Riverwalk for DuSable. Lightfoot said she would be introducing that measure in the next few weeks.

Throughout the day, City Hall was buzzing with reporters and aldermen as it was one of the first large in-person city council meetings since the start of the pandemic last March. The majority of aldermen attended in-person.

Tow truck licensing

In other business, aldermen passed an ordinance that will require tow truck operators to secure a $250 license for each truck they operate in the city.

“It is well-documented that vulnerable accident victims and stranded motorists in Chicago are often taken advantage of by tow truck companies and operators engaging in predatory and potentially dangerous business practices,” the ordinance reads.

The proposal’s sponsor, 36th Ald. Gilbert Villegas, says the ordinance is the first of its kind in the city.

“It would create accountability for good and bad actors,” Villegas said. The ordinance takes effect in three months.

Asphalt plant affordable housing

A controversial housing project across from McKinley Park can now move forward after aldermen approved a zoning change.

The proposal prompted a 30-minute debate over where the 120 new affordable housing units would be built. There’s a MAT Asphalt Plan nearby, prompting criticism from aldermen who say this feeds into a long history of environmental racism in Chicago.

Those aldermen urged a ‘no’ vote until the council could get more information from the city’s public health department or the Environmental Protection Agency about the impact of the asphalt plant on residents.

“Poor people do not get to choose where they live in this city, and those choices shrink day, after day, after day,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa 35th Ward.

Aldermen in favor of the project argued this would increase the quality of life for low-income residents in McKinley Park, since the development would be across the street from the park, and the development includes amenities like a courtyard and bike storage on each floor of the building.

The measure ultimately passed 36 to 12. The project previously lost out on $8 million in tax credit due to concerns over how close it is to the plant, according to reporting from the Sun-Times.

Several significant construction projects clear Council

Aldermen approved a funding request from the developers behind a project to restore the historic Ramova Theater in Bridgeport, clearing the way for the project, which is expected to be completed by June 2022.

The group Urban Revival Chicago sought an expanded tax increment financing district to increase funding for the project to $6.8 million, up from the $6.6 million previously approved. The theater has sat vacant for decades.

The project aims to turn it into a music venue, restaurant, and brewery.

Not far away, in Bronzeville, The Forum, a historic community space, got approval to operate as an entertainment venue. The rezoning was necessary in order to start construction, but the owner of the property said renovations won’t start until financing is secured.

Meanwhile, another mega development just north of downtown could soon break ground. JDL Development got the green light to build multiple high-rise towers with more than 2,500 apartments and condos in the area near Moody Bible Institute between the Gold Coast and Cabrini Green.

And finally, the State of Illinois got an assist from aldermen in efforts to sell the James R. Thompson Center. That’s because the parcel of land that the historic structure sits on needed to be rezoned to allow for more flexibility than the current zoning would allow, according to downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward.

Reilly told the zoning committee Tuesday that Gov. JB Pritzker requested the change so the state could better market the property to private developers. Reilly said in 1981, “for some unknown reason,” his predecessor Ald. Burt Natarus down zoned the property while the Thompson Center was still being constructed.

“If we don’t restore the original zoning rights, demolition of the property is likely a foregone conclusion,” Reilly said, adding that the current zoning would not allow for an adaptive reuse of the building designed by architect Helmut Jahn, which preservationists favor.

Mariah Woelfel and Becky Vevea cover city government at WBEZ. You can follow them on Twitter @MariahWoelfel and @beckyvevea.