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News Mon Apr 23 2012

Logan Square Farmers Market Drama: 2012 Edition

5801106771_07e29ddee4.jpgThis past Thursday evening, Zina Murray, owner of Logan Square Kitchen, posted a screed to both the Logan Square Yahoo! Group (a very popular neighborhood listserv) and Everyblock proposing to move the farmer's market from its current location at the southeast corner of the square (on the south side of Logan, in front of Jam and New Wave Coffee), to the small stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that runs between Logan and Kedzie. Murray cited the growth of the market, which has expanded into a green section of Logan Boulevard, as her reason for the proposal. She portrayed the move as an effort to "give [the restaurants that line Logan near the Market] room for their lovely outdoor cafes," although last summer La Boulangerie was the only business to utilize sidewalk space (Jam had not yet opened).

Murray's most curious claim is that 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon supports her plan and has been "working to get CDOT" to get the market moved to Milwaukee. Why a business owner who is no stranger to bureaucratic hurdles would be pressing for a community-supported campaign to reroute traffic on a major city street is befuddling; why an alderman who tried to get the market's operating permit revoked last spring over a grudge with the market's organizers would be trying once again to control the existence of the market sounds even more puzzling.

New Wave Coffee owner Zach Zulauf responded, "New Wave Coffee doesn't have a problem with the current placement of the farmers market. We've never had conflict with the market. And the market has not kept us from doing a patio or hindered us in any other way." Logan Square Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paul Levin, who was "startled" by Murray's post, also wrote a lengthy response (after the jump).

Murray's initial post to the Yahoo Group page:

Help move the Farmer's Market to a bigger site-- it has outgrown inner drive by New Wave Coffee, and we need to give those restaurants room for their lovely outdoor cafes.

Ald. Rey Colon is working to get CDOT to approve moving the Farmer's Market to Milwaukee Ave. this season (in the middle of the circle, between the Monument and Comfort Station). He wants residents to email him, urging CDOT to approve the move.

It's too small, congested, damages the parkway, restricts commerce, and blocks residents' activities on Logan. Many issues are resolved with this move, and the Farmer's Market becomes an even better experience.

Please email to rey.colon@cityofchicago.org, with your own comments, and pass it on to others in the neighborhood. He needs you to weigh in, you'll make a big difference.

Let's get CDOT to resolve their issues and approve this move!

Logan Square Chamber of Commerce's Executive Director Paul Levin responded:

Dear Neighbors,

We were a little startled when we saw Zina Murray's various postings and comments about moving our Logan Square Farmers Market. She hadn't told us that she wanted to take on that project!

So, just so you know...moving the Market from Logan Boulevard is something that the Chamber has looked at and been thinking about since 2009, at least.

At first we thought we could go to the soon-to-be Logan Square Plaza, where the el goes underground. We've outgrown that space, and agreed, when we were asked, that the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project the City's now working to put there was a good substitute. Then we thought about moving to the Square itself.

Problem is, it's not as easy as just putting up some barricades to block Milwaukee Avenue for nine hours on 22 consecutive summer Sundays.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Alderman and the Chamber of Commerce have all looked, and we all agree: at the Square there are pedestrian and vehicle safety and traffic congestion and flow issues that need to be addressed, at some significant cost, before a move of the Market should be considered.

We learned from closing Milwaukee Avenue for the Arts Festival that unless you change the timing of the signals (a job that has to be done by hand, on three different control boxes around the Square, before and then reset after the event) the traffic backs up on Milwaukee and Kedzie. Drivers have to wait through multiple cycles to get through. They get impatient and aggressive and start putting the pedestrians in those loooong crosswalks at risk. Not a good situation!

The solution? Put in new digital control boxes that can be remotely re-programmed. Estimated cost, $250,000+. Length of time to find the money, plan the project (must meet federal highway standards!), purchase equipment and install: 18 to 24 months, most likely.

Alderman Colon has talked to CDOT about this. CDOT has been responsive, or so I understand. Rey's even been able to get CDOT thinking seriously about revising their existing plan (for 2013-14) to reconstruct Milwaukee Avenue into a much more sophisticated improvement project. You may have seen some design drawings that Charlie Keel and other volunteer engineer/designer/architect neighbors put together and posted earlier this year, for the "Logan Square Bicentennial Improvements Project". It's a great idea, but it won't happen this year; most likely won't get started until the year after. Traffic projects have lead times almost as long as some of our Logan Square crosswalks!

So, where does this leave us? The Market's staying where it is this year, and probably for a while longer. What should we be doing? The Chamber wants to keep our Market "Best in Chicago" and we'll do what needs to be done to make it even better, where it is. One step towards that was the Constant Contact survey we sent out in February to 2,000 of our Market visitors. Nearly 200 of you responded, and we'll be doing and trying many of the things you suggested when we asked "How do you think we could make the Market better?" Another step was the grass we had Christy Weber reseed on the parkway between Albany and Whipple last fall. It's coming up pretty nicely, as you'll see when you walk by.

As to CDOT? I think their people are receptive. So, if you'd like, let them know you support the Market and the improvement of the Square, and appreciate their help. But be realistic about how fast they can swing into action. In the meantime, look forward to 10 AM Sunday, June 3, when I hope to see you on Logan Boulevard, at the Market!

Paul Levin, Executive Director
Logan Square Chamber of Commerce

The Logan Square Farmers Market is a Project of the
Logan Square Chamber of Commerce


Now that you've got the background, there are questions. Oh so many questions.

1. With the first market of the year set for Sunday, June 3rd, why is this proposal being made public now?

2. Colon supports this? After his threat of pulling the market's permit just last year? Interesting...

3. Given New Wave's response, where did this outdoor cafe seating concern come from? When places like Jam signed their lease, they knew the farmer's market took place right there, which I'm sure was part of the appeal. Additionally, the vendors don't set up on the sidewalk, but on the street, and maintain enough clearance for all the people, dogs, and strollers that travel to the market.

4. What homeowners? No one inconvenienced by the market has piped up yet. And if, as Levin said, only 200 of the 2000 people emailed about the survey responded - that would say to me that the market the way it is (status quo, if you will), is just fine with the residents and market visitors.

5. Where will the vendors park their trucks with this proposed move? The space proposed doesn't seem larger than the space the market currently occupies, and I'd be willing to wager the farmers would still park their vans on the boulevard.

6. Milwaukee Avenue often has traffic backed up around this intersection on a Tuesday afternoon. So perhaps the biggest question of them all: With all of the Logan and Kedzie Boulevard church traffic a Sunday brings, what will be done to ensure pedestrian safety?

Murray seems to think she has Mayor Emanuel, Alderman Colon, and CDOT on her side, but we've yet to see a formal position from any of these parties. If a move or expansion can be done more quickly than Levin's assumed timeline, I'm all for it, but it's pretty poor form to present this plan a little over a month before the first market of the year. Calls to Alderman Colon and the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce were not returned at press time.

UPDATE: After speaking with Paul Levin this morning, here's a little background on Murray's involvement with the market:

Long time residents will recall the battle for the Mega Mall, and the several Requests for Proposal made for redevelopment of that land (Mega Mall owner, Kyun Hee Park, put a couple million into improvements and the conversation, has, for the most part, disappeared). Well, one of those RFPs was submitted by Zina Murray, around which she created Logan Square Markets, LLC, to develop an indoor market space. The redevelopment fell through, and afterwards, Murray made a proposal to the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce to run the farmers market, as she'd already set up the non-profit to do so. Her request was declined, as LSCC already had relationships with the vendors and were running a successful market.
Fast forward to last year and the fiasco with Rey's threatening to pull the permit for the market, or not support the waiving of fees - Murray inserted herself into the situation as a facilitator between the newly created Advisory Panel (consisting of five market vendors), newly created Board Liason, Executive Director, Board Members, and Alderman Colon. Got that?
Returning to the present, Levin was aware that a few vendors wanted the market to move/expand, but that overall, vendors were happy with the market, as anyone that visited the bustling crowds last summer can attest. After Murray's proposal made the rounds, Levin called Colon, who allegedly met with Rob Montalbano of Montalbano Farms, claiming that more vendors than previously thought supported a move, and that Murray was to mount a campaign. Rey told Murray she could conduct this as she wished and he would simply forward her ideas to the Chicago Department of Transportation; all of this was done without the input of the LSCC who runs the market.

Of course Levin has questions of his own, one of which I hadn't even begun to consider. Ensuring the safety of pedestrians is likely the biggest issue. Residents may recall the Sunday Parkways experiment a few years ago, wherein parts of the boulevard system were closed off and open to pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, and the like. What they may not have realized at the time was the amount of money needed for just one Sunday to pay for all of the traffic aides necessitated by the closure of the boulevards. On a much smaller scale, such assistance would likely be needed to close down Milwaukee Avenue each Sunday for the farmers market, an expense the farmers market cannot afford at this point.
Additionally, I'd forgotten that last summer that area had two closures: once was identical to the proposed spot for the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, which hosted a stage for musical acts, and a second time Boulevard Bash closed down two blocks of Logan Boulevard east of Milwaukee. These special event closures would force the market to relocate for those two weekends if hosted on Milwaukee Avenue in the square.

Murray also responded to my email:

If the Alderman and CDOT commissioner indeed support this move why were you the first one to go public with it? I posted my idea online to invite participation. I think it's a good idea-- so does the Chamber/Paul Levin (his posts say he favors since 2009), so does Ald. Colon. We all agree it's a good idea, and it was my hope that more residents speaking up would provide some energy to get the idea moving forward. And why have we not seen any response from these public officials on the topic? You would have to ask them, I think they are still trying to figure out whether it is possible to accomplish the move.

How soon did you realistically think the market could be moved to it's location, and why was this proposal made now, a month before the market is to begin? What you view as a proposal I see as a neighborhood conversation that's been ongoing. The Chamber has just submitted its permit app, which requests the site be extended a full block further east down to Whipple. We have commercial activity congesting residential space while we have a lovely Square designed as a gathering spot and focal point for our neighborhood. Everyone, including the Chamber, says they agree with the plan. I do too. I believe there are ways to accomplish the move without spending much money, and I challenged my government to do it, and asked my neighbors to weigh in.

these other questions you're asking about the move are better asked of CDOT or the Chamber.


Murray has also been active this morning on the Everyblock thread.

UPDATE 2:
Rey Colon responded last night:

I read the article you put out today. I can't understand the logic in writing about someone first and then asking questions later, but hey.....

In consultation with the Market Director, I asked CDOT to review the possibility of moving the market to Milwaukee Avenue 2-years ago to accommodate it's growth. That request was denied.

Several months ago, Rob Montalbano (who facilitates the Farmer's Market's
Advisory Panel) and Zina Murray (who has volunteered to work with that group) requested a meeting with me. At that time, they told me that they had collected numerous comments from vendors and community members in support moving the market because it had outgrown the street and spilled into the boulevard greens. They indicated that the Farmer's Market's Advisory Panel had identified the existing space as their number one concern. I explained that the Market Director and I unsuccessfully pursued moving the market to Milwaukee Avenue in the past.

Under the new administration, CDOT has focused on putting pedestrians first, therefore I agreed to ask CDOT to revisit the proposal. They agreed to give it careful review and get back to me.

CDOT may come back with the same recommendation they made 2-years ago.

Or CDOT may determine that it is possible to do under certain conditions. I'm really not sure what their recommendations will be or if it will be realistic to implement.

I'm not creating the hype nor am I interested in it. I've been presented with a problem and I am exploring solutions. That's really all there is to it. Have fun.

He then attached constituents emails for and against the move, which I will not reprint here as many contained addresses and phone numbers. Most were in support, with a few dissenters.

Rob Montalbano also responded in the comments below:

Since I was mentioned in the article, I should clarify some points. During the winter, efforts were made to measure interest in moving the market. The Advisory Panel spoke with the Chamber, the Alderman, and vendors to gather information about where various parties stood. There is interest in moving the market among all parties but the concerns of CDOT are real. In early spring, the Advisory Panel decided to focus our efforts on improving the current site. In my opinion, all parties, including the Alderman's office, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Advisory Panel are working together to make our market a wonderful experience for the Logan Square community. We are looking forward to another great year on the current site.


Overall, I don't think anyone is against the move, but the way this idea was brought up has left a bad taste in my mouth. Why was it brought up now and not at the end of last season, or after one of the weekends where the muddy area required a pair of overpriced rain boots? Hopefully some kind of real proposal will be made, and a public meeting will be held to discuss this, rather than being posted on the Yahoo! Listserv and Everyblock.

 

FM / April 23, 2012 10:36 AM

I was under the impression that the current location was only temporary. Last year I heard the market itself was planning on shutting down Milwaukee Ave. as the one-off summer festivals had been doing - is that not true?

Colin / April 23, 2012 11:26 AM

I think there is some confusion about what Colon "threatened." The issue was if he would stop waiving the permit fee, not pull a permit altogether, right? It is often reported as "pulling the permit," but Colon himself didn't threaten that. He just threatened to withhold preferential treatment, if I recall.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's important to be accurate on this point.

Kelly / April 23, 2012 1:53 PM

Colin -
"Colon reportedly contacted the Chamber in recent months, stating that if Levin were removed from his post, they would retain their permit; the Chamber did nothing and went ahead with their application for this summer's market. As Colon has ultimate control over permits and zoning issues in the ward, he opposed LSCC's application, which prompted today's hearing at City Hall. If passed, the changing of permits could wreak major havoc for the upcoming Farmers Market season. Applications for vendors, which required a nonrefundable deposit, were due at the end of March. Colon has not publicly identified a group to replace LSCC's management were the permit be revoked."

Whether or not it was revoking a permit or waiving a fee, the fact that he contacted the Chamber and proposed that he would go back on his actions if Levin were removed from his post suggests ulterior motives, no?

source: http://gapersblock.com/drivethru/2011/05/03/logan_square_farmers_market_vs_alderman_colon/

Colin / April 23, 2012 2:11 PM

Kelly,
I realize that the Gapers Block article indicates that, but that's not really definitive ---- it's kind of circular to use a Gapers Block article to confirm another Gapers Block article, without any quotes from Colon.

Don't get me wrong, I think that trying to push the Chamber around because Levin personally backed Schiavone is petty. But I DO think that there's a big difference between trying to shut down the market and just making life hard for Levin. Unless Colon is electorally suicidal, he never would shut down the market.

If you (or anyone) comes across a direct quote from Colon about his motives I'd be interested to see it.

Jen / April 23, 2012 2:42 PM

Colin:
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-05-03/news/ct-met-logan-square-market-20110503_1_political-activity-alderman-chamber

Colin / April 23, 2012 2:48 PM

Jen: Thanks!
Kelly: Sorry if I sounded snippy, I was trying to be concise and ended up being jackass-y. Sorry!

Kate / April 23, 2012 9:26 PM

What is going on with the Mega Mall? Is it open? Each time I go by, the lights are on, but the doors are locked.

It would be great if they could have it there year round.

K / April 23, 2012 10:01 PM

@Colin: so glad that we could do your homework for you.

Rob Montalbano / April 24, 2012 10:33 AM

Since I was mentioned in the article, I should clarify some points. During the winter, efforts were made to measure interest in moving the market. The Advisory Panel spoke with the Chamber, the Alderman, and vendors to gather information about where various parties stood. There is interest in moving the market among all parties but the concerns of CDOT are real. In early spring, the Advisory Panel decided to focus our efforts on improving the current site. In my opinion, all parties, including the Alderman's office, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Advisory Panel are working together to make our market a wonderful experience for the Logan Square community. We are looking forward to another great year on the current site.

Christopher Gagnon / April 24, 2012 1:51 PM

I don't understand the writer's criticism of the timing of the message from Zina Murray.

To me, it makes good sense to begin the community discussion before the summer market opens, so as people visit the market in its present location with this idea fresh in their minds, they can envision the possibilities. I think materials related to this suggestion should be distributed at the market itself, though I doubt the Chamber will allow this.

REintroducing (because as we've established, this is not a new proposal) this concept at the end of last season seems too long ago for people to be thinking about it now, and introducing it after specific problems develop this year (like a muddy parkway) may encourage people to dismiss it as a reactionary response to a minor problem, rather than as part of a larger vision, which is how I see it.

I also think it's incredibly naive to imagine that anyone actually thought this change could be brought about in time for this year's market. I don't think Zina Murray believed that--she has far too much experience fighting the city. The timing just makes sense because the market will be fresh in folks' minds because they are going to the market.

I also don't understand the criticism of Zina Murray herself for taking the initiative to begin the public conversation. With her message, Murray did what all good organizers do: she made an argument (with which many agree), asked people who did agree to support it, and told them how to do that. None of her suggestions for how to take action were inappropriate or harmful, and nothing in her message disparaged the alderman, CDOT, or the Chamber of Commerce. If anything, she was asking people to support these parties.

There is nothing stopping ANY of us from taking this type of action. Just because the Chamber or the alderman, or CDOT, or whomever is involved does *not* mean they own the issue to the exclusion of public participation. I'd like to think that when community members take action--particularly on issues for which there is wide support--we ought to treat them respectfully, and applaud their civic participation, rather than vilifying them.

And that goes for anyone who wants to organize people *against* moving the market.

Laurie / April 25, 2012 9:38 AM

Actually, the emails calling for everyone to bombard the alderman with emails to move the market did sound like a push to move the MArket right now, not next year. Last year after the market closed was a perfect time to begin having meetings on this issue. Indeed, people had all summer with the market and raising the possiiblity of a different site while the summer was fresh in our minds would have (and can this year) been easy to refer to by all.

Clearly this discussion has already been taking place outside the list-serv by some who want to move the market. Cool. So call some meetings. Ask the Alderman and Chamber of Commerce to share what they've looked into and how they think about the current space and other possible space. Invite people to bring forward thoughts on the issue of traffic space.

I don't believe I said anywhere in my only other email on this subject that everyone should sit down and be quiet because the Chamber, the Alderman, and CDOT have already looked into it. It does seem to me that they have stuff to add to the conversation that is valuable. Tho - perhaps the folks who are already sure the market must be and can be moved have already had the discussion with them and hold a different opinion.

To me, the rallying cry to move the Market came bounding onto the list-serv as tho we had an emergency. This isn't organizing. Organizing is bringing everyone with an interest into the same room to discuss, debate, and work to a solution.

Laurie

SLO / April 28, 2012 1:08 PM

TAKE DOWN THE MEGAMALL!!!

then everyone has more room. vendors from the megamall can get together and rent all the cheap priced storefronts on milwaukee ave.

Everyone will be happy.

Sharon Schmuhl / April 30, 2012 6:52 PM

Concerning the moving of the Logan Square Farmer;s Market; two words come to mind - Bad Idea.
The current market is working very well; don't ruin a good thing. Something can be ruined in an instant, it can take forever to correct! Reading all that has been posted; where are the vendor input and comments? No vendors, no market.

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