Heavy lifting required for Dowell in her first year

A quarter of a century was too long for many Third Ward residents’ concerns to go ignored and business development to be stifled. Change was long overdue, said the current alderman, Pat Dowell.

A quarter of a century was too long for many Third Ward residents’ concerns to go ignored and business development to be stifled. Change was long overdue, said the current alderman, Pat Dowell.    

Dowell beat former Ald. Dorothy Tillman in an April 2007 aldermanic run-off election, her second attempt to unseat Tillman.

Tillman led the ward for more than two decades after being appointed to the seat by the late Mayor Harold Washington.

The ward borders the 2nd, 4th, 11th, 12th and 20th wards, and includes portions of the South Loop, Bronzeville and Fuller Park communities.

The first order of business for Dowell was ensuring that her office was transparent and responsive.

“I promised to have an open, accessible office that responded to the constituents’ needs. There is no glass that separates the residents from me. It’s very welcoming,” Dowell said, referring to Tillman’s old aldermanic office, which had a glass window that separated her and her staff from constituents as they walked into the office.

Next for Dowell was to take care of housekeeping items that had stacked up over the years.

Money left over from the annual $1.2 million menu funds aldermen received to make improvements in their respective ward was used to fulfill long-standing requests from residents who wanted “basic” city services.

Streets were resurfaced, new curbs and light poles were put in, sidewalks were redone and brighter bulbs were put in existing light poles. These were all things finally done that residents asked for long ago–that should have been taken care of, Dowell said.

Dowell also said the vacant lots in the ward are becoming more accessible for ownership by homeowners who live adjacent to them.

Bronzeville has about 1,800 vacant lots, most in the Third Ward, according to a study done a few years ago by Housing Bronzeville, a community-based group.

“We’ve made some progress on having the vacant lots available for purchase by homeowners who have kept the lots clean. It took a year, but a deal was finally completed by one of the residents earlier this year for the lot next to their home. We are hoping more owners will step up, take care of the lots next to them and want to purchase it,” said Dowell, a former city planner under Washington’s administration.

Taking care of basic infrastructure needs, coupled with clearing the vacant lots, makes the ward more attractive for potential business investors. The ward is starved for more commercial development, which will provide much needed jobs for the community, she said.

Dowell’s office put together a committee of residents to focus on the 43rd and King Drive to Prairie Avenue commercial corridor and is working on reopening the Root Street Bridge. She has applied for funds to get the structurally-damaged bridge restored so it can hopefully open next year.

“During my campaign, I said the community would have an input with what happens in the ward. I’ve kept that promise. I make sure that potential developers go out and meet resident groups, churches, condominium associations and block clubs,” she said.

The only grocery store in the ward is Sunrise Foods on East Pershing Road at Vincennes Avenue. For residents looking for another grocery option, they have to travel outside of the ward.

That will soon change.

Dowell is in talks to have a well-known grocery store built on 39th and State Street. She is also looking for a national retailer to set up shop on the southwest corner of 47th and King Drive.

Columbia College is also slated to expand into the ward. The college’s new media center will be housed on 16th and State Street. Construction is expected to start next year.

Dowell said it’s been a challenging but “very rewarding” first year.

“Each time I see someone on the street that I’ve helped with what may seem like a minor issue and they are extremely grateful for it, it makes me feel good. It lets me know that I am doing my job.

“I get letters of support and people coming into the office to volunteer their services,” Dowell said.

She said that while her first year in office was tough because getting the ward back together takes a lot of "heavy lifting," she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I love my job. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said before making the final preparations for the July 26 Third Ward Music Festival.

Kathy Chaney can be reached via email at kchaney@chicagodefender.com.



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