The business district in Wicker Park and Bucktown will spend $50,000 on initiatives that could include private security patrols, security cameras and partnerships with local businesses to boost the area’s safety.
The sum is more than the $20,000 budgeted in July but less than the $100,000 Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, and Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, wanted set aside from a special tax fund. They sought to hire firms, staffed mostly by off-duty and retired police officers who have arrest powers and sometimes carry guns, using $100,000 from a $1.2 million budget that comes from property taxes and is managed by businesspeople in the neighborhoods. Hopkins cited an increase in crime as the reason for the outlay.
On July 20, the Bucktown and Wicker Park “special service area,” which like others is run by volunteer commissioners appointed by the mayor and approved by the aldermen, revised its proposed 2017 budget to include $20,000 for safety initiatives.
But Hopkins said last week that $20,000 wouldn’t cut it for business districts the size of Wicker Park and Bucktown.
The special service area must get the support of the aldermen whose wards include part of Wicker Park and Bucktown for its proposed budget to be approved by City Council.
In a news release Wednesday, the special service area said it has approved $50,000 in its 2017 budget to be spent on safety programs. It will work out details with the neighborhood and with the three aldermen — Hopkins, Moreno and Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd — whose wards contain the area.
“Security camera rebates, a community ambassador program, partnerships with area nightlife establishments, and private security patrols are among the ideas being considered,” the service area said in the news release.
The vote to increase the spending from $20,000 to $50,000 occurred Tuesday and was unanimous, spokeswoman Elizabeth Neukirch said.
Brent Norsman, an architect who is chairman of the special service area, said that “after further discussion, we determined that to implement one or more meaningful safety initiatives in 2017, additional funds would be needed.”
On Wednesday, Hopkins said $50,000 is enough to hire a security firm for several months to evaluate whether supplementing the Chicago police works. “It’s a reasonable compromise,” Hopkins said.
Here’s what got trimmed from the service-area budget to allocate $50,000 for safety measures: $20,000 from public art, including outdoor murals, sculptures and grants for local artists; $10,000 from landscaping and tree planting; $5,000 from community grants; $5,000 from street spending, including benches, garbage cans and fence maintenance; $5,000 from the facade enhancement rebate program for area businesses; and $5,000 from bicycle and transit improvements.
Chicago has 53 business districts that are designated as special service areas, where a tax levy on commercial and residential property helps pay for items above and beyond what the city provides. Wicker Park-Bucktown’s special service area has been tapped to hire artists to paint colorful wall murals, get rid of graffiti, help business owners redo their facades and install bike racks.
However, some businesses contributing to and controlling the district’s purse strings have balked at Hopkins’ proposal.
They reason that hiring private security would lessen the incentive for the city to put its own police there. They also argue that the money is meant for enhanced — not essential — services, like arts events and landscaping.
Some also say crime can be curbed by better urban planning, not just policing, because well-managed public spaces can be safer. Liability is also a concern, as well as the question of the fairness of many neighborhood businesses paying for problems caused by a relative few.
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