Monthly Archives: June 2017

Creative Commercial Center Boxes Up Bronzeville’s Community Development

Fresh market fruits and vegetables

Residents of Chicago’s Bronzeville district will now have easier access to fresh produce and other goods thanks to a new community shopping center. But this commercial hub isn’t like other stores in Chicago.

It’s made out of shipping containers.

Chicago Magazine reports that the shopping center, called “Boxville,” opened this week and is home to a grocery center called Produce Box, a small boutique, and a bike repair shop. The project was created by developer Bernard Loyd, who has worked to bring local investment to Bronzeville.

“The idea was always to have a community plaza with vending opportunities, something informal,” Loyd said in a statement to Chicago Magazine. “We’re trying to create a progression of spaces.”

The shipping containers look like “four giant metal Lego pieces,” according to Chicago Magazine. These structures are highly durable, lasting an average of 25 years and requiring minimal maintenance. These properties have made them a popular option in recent years for popup commercial centers.

Mashable reports that Produce Box is funded by Chicago non-profit Green City Market, bringing affordable produce and Italian ice to local residents. Previously, Bronzeville’s produce choices were greatly limited, Green City Market’s operations manager, Kathleen Williams, said in a statement to Mashable.

“Produce Box will impact the community by providing a space for neighborhood residents to gather around food,” she said. “Parts of the Bronzeville community have not had access to produce in two generations and Green City Market will work to change this by bringing produce on a weekly basis in addition to food demos.”

Commerce isn’t the only industry using shipping containers to spark affordable community development. These containers are mainly made out of steel, and four of the most common metals used in the construction industry are carbon steel, aluminum steel, copper, and stainless steel. With the construction durability of these products, they have become a key resource for new affordable housing projects around the county.

In Chicago specifically, Boxville is building off of another $9 million developmnent effort headed by Loyd, who was once a Bronzeville resident. This project, called Bronzeville Cookin’, is a dining center and business incubator, according to Chicago Magazine. Lloyd said in a statement that the city of Chicago has pledged $3 million to the project.

Michelle E.L. Merritt, owner of Aplomb, Boxville’s boutique, said in a statement to <emthat Loyd’s projects are not being implemented as top-down efforts for capital gain. Rather, he is meeting the community where they are to build up one of Chicago’s main cultural hubs.

“He’s not landing on the community, but really engaging the community in the effort,” she said.

IBM Giveth, IBM Taketh Away: What IBM’s Discontinuation Of Telework Means For Remote Employees


IBM is credited with paving the way for corporations to embrace teleworking options. For decades, the corporation allowed large segments of its employees to telecommute. These days, 65% of professionals say they allow their employees to work remotely, likely thanks — at least in part — to IBM’s efforts.
But now, IBM is calling its employees back into the office. And for those who currently work remotely or work at an office that isn’t in one of the company’s main six locations, being able to keep their jobs relies on making either a long commute or a big move.

John Simons, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, told Texas Standard that IBM used to be an industry leader insofar as teleworking. Not only did IBM develop software and services that made it easier for their own employees and clients to work from home, but they allowed workers in a variety of roles, ranging from coding to marketing, to do so.

“Now the company has decided that it wants to go a different direction, they want to group people together in really small, agile teams in sort of face-to-face situations in offices around the country,” says Simons. “They think that that’s a better way to have teams react in real time to market changes and changes in the desires of their clients.”

But some aren’t convinced that’s the real motivation behind the shift. Employees suspect that it may be a way for the company to cut costs by eliminating older, more settled remote workers in less profitable operations centers around the nation. Current employees who telecommute will have to relocate to one of IBM’s designated main offices in New York, San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh, or Cambridge if they don’t want to find themselves suddenly unemployed.

“Many of these employees who are kind of angry that they made decisions like purchasing homes and relocating to far-flung areas are … saying that this is a way to do layoffs in disguise,” explains Simons.

The decision comes at a curious time, given how many millennials are seeking out flexible employment opportunities. Surveys have found that 85% of millennials want positions that allow for total telecommuting, with 50% saying they would change jobs just to be in a flexible work environment that allows for the option of off-site full time work. And since less than one-third of Americans are engaged in their jobs during any given year, the move seems a bit backwards from such a forward-thinking company.

It’s not just employees who stand to benefit from remote work, either. Research suggests that employees are more productive when they’re able to have flexibility in their work schedules.

And Harry West, SVP of Appirio, an IT consulting firm, notes, “We haven’t found that remote working environments result in a loss of productivity or communication hiccups. In fact, remote working environments actually increase transparency, collaboration, and communication with internal teams.”

It’s interesting, then, that IBM has cited the new policy as a means to improve collaboration and communication within its teams. But IBM isn’t the only corporation to shift away from telework for this reason. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, has stated similar sentiments: “If your business is up and to the right, people can telework all year long. When you are in the middle of a turnaround, you need to come into an office.”

Since 2013, HP has backtracked on its former teleworking allowance and has asked employees to be present in the office during working hours. Ironically, both HP and IBM are seen as technological innovators whose tools can allow remote workers to succeed even in non-traditional office environments.

While large corporations may be moving away from telework, there are still emerging opportunities for those in the Chicago workforce who are seeking flexibility in their jobs. There’s currently a proposal for a shared office space geared towards millennial workers and telecommuters, offering services like internet, printing, desk space, and coffee for freelancers and entrepreneurs who don’t need a lot of space but require access to office necessities.

While some aspects of the proposal have given officials pause, the co-working concept would be a welcome one for suburban Chicago neighborhoods. These areas are seeing a rise in millennial populations that want good schools, big backyards, and better employment opportunities.

And while big corporations may be fighting against the teleworking trend they initially set, if millennials have any say in it, the option for flexible work won’t be going anywhere soon.

“As the trend for remote employees continues to rise, and as the workforce shifts to predominantly millennials, companies … who want to remain innovative need to be accommodating,” notes Andy Baker, VP of Talent and Culture at Nerdio, a Chicago-based IT-as-a-service provider, to The VarGuy. “If not, you’ll risk losing top talent due to your lack of flexibility. We’ve discovered that our remote policy has been one of the greatest perks for our younger workforce.”

Chicago Holocaust Survivor Finally Gets Bar Mitzvah 76 Years Later

Photo c/o Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Photo c/o Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Jewish war survivors who haven’t been able to celebrate coming of age ceremonies in their faith are finally getting a chance to do so.

In Jewish culture, a bar and bat mitzvah is a coming of age celebration for boys and girls to transition into adulthood. These celebrations are typically large and elaborate, with the average bar or bat mitzvah budget across the nation between $15,000 to $30,000. However, many Jewish survivors of World War II did not get the chance to partake in this incredibly important religious and cultural ceremony in their native countries.

That is, until now.

Harold Katz lives in the North Side of Chicago and has quite the life story to tell. Now 89-years-old, he emigrated to the United States after fleeing from the Holocaust. After being rounded up by Nazis in his hometown of Tarn, Czechoslovakia, he lived on the streets of Poland with his family until a Hungarian woman smuggled him to Budapest. During the war Katz was taken prisoner three different times while his parents, three brothers, and four sisters were all murdered at Auschwitz. Katz was only 13 when his family died; only one brother survived.

Throughout all this sadness and devastation, Katz’s scheduled bar mitzvah came and went. He eventually found a previously-emigrated family in the Chicago area, moved with his brother, and found a stable job in the construction industry. He started his own family, but he still never got the bar mitzvah he wanted.

Last year, Katz’s family threw him a big birthday party after he had just come home from a trip to Hungary with his daughter Lila. It was the first time he returned to Europe since the war and was inspired to get something back that was taken away from him with no regard.

So Katz decided to finally have his bar mitzvah, which happened in the North Side area the weekend of Memorial Day. The celebration went off as planned with a reading from a completed Torah scroll, but he added something a little different. In typical bar mitzvahs, the ceremony ends with the newly anointed man or woman writing letters for loved ones.

Instead, Katz wrote in memory of all the people who made it possible for him to stand in Chicago, at 89, finally getting his bar mitzvah. Who did he include in his letters? His murdered parents and siblings who gave up their place and allowed him to be smuggled into Budapest, the woman who sheltered him in Hungary, members of the Hungarian underground who forged the papers that helped him escape to the U.S., the Holocaust survivor who delivered his ad to the paper that got his aunt and uncle’s attention in Chicago, and his family who sponsored his trip to come start a new life in America.

In the case of Harold Katz, while his bar mitzvah may be 76 years late, it is evidently true that the best things come to those who wait.

Former Lincoln Log Factory To Become 606 Self-Storage Facility In 2018


The average American family has an incredible 300,000 items in their home, and if they live in a big city like Chicago, it can be a hassle to keep that many possessions under one roof.

But thankfully there are storage solutions for those families. Nearly 50,000 storage facilities exist in the United States today, and more are being built every year. Here in Chicago, developers are reusing old spaces to create new storage spaces for Chicagoland residents who have run out of room at home.

As of June 2, real estate developer Martin Taradejna purchased a former Lincoln Logs factory in Chicago and stated his intention to convert it into a self-storage facility. It was purchased at a price of $2.2 million.

The storage industry has been growing quickly since the Great Recession ended as Americans increasingly choose to rent their homes. And according to a market research report from Marcus and Millichap, Americans are simply buying more stuff than they used to.

“To date, the robust performance of self-storage properties is primarily driven by growing space demand,” reads the report. “After hunkering down during the recession, U.S. consumers are clearly back in an accumulation phase, buying new things that will inevitably relegate older possessions to self-storage spaces around the country.”

The property includes more than 1 acre, a 45,834-square-foot building, and an attached 23,380-square-foot warehouse.

According to the plans that Taradejna provided, the facility will be comprised of 600 units and will offer both outdoor and indoor parking. It’s expected to be fully renovated and opened early next year, in 2018.

Taradejna expressed excitement at the location and hopes that the fact that it is near the 606 means it could bring in a lot of local business.

“Being on The 606 is an attractive thing and [also] having the YMCA as a neighbor. It’s a nice dense population there, and not a lot of self-storage.”

The 606 is a part of a larger project, which is comprised of a system of parks and access points. The property itself is on the west end of the Bloomingdale Trail, a 2.7-mile elevated park and trail.

The factory itself is the former home of Playskool Manufacturing Co., which used it to produce Lincoln Logs from the 1940s to 1960s. It was purchased from Don Glisovich by Taradejna and a business partner.

Gilsovich was the sole owner of the property and purchased it in 2015 with the intent of turning it into a location to fit a brewery, cafe, and theater.

New Property Tax Hike Raises Old Concerns

A new property tax hike for Chicago homeowners is reviving concerns about the way Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios and his office valued homes. To many Chicago homeowners, the property tax seems specifically designed to benefit the rich and burden the poor.

While the 10% increase in property tax has long been expected, it is still sending waves through the Chicago and Cook County Community. Both the city of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools District recently increased levies as part of a multiyear plan to ease shortfalls in worker pension programs, among other issues.

The Chicagoland suburbs will also be seeing an increase in their property taxes, though the hike there is less aggressive — 6.5% in North suburbs and 3.9% in South suburbs.

The value of a home is typically determined by calculating its market value, factoring in things like the current real estate market and any recent renovations (landscaping improvements alone can raise a home’s market value by 14%). However, a long-term analysis by the Chicago Tribune has revealed that the county assessor’s flawed approach to valuing property has created a divide between homeowners in economically prosperous (and typically white) neighborhoods and lower income neighborhood and minority communities.

The inaccuracies, the analysis concludes, are the result of outdated and highly subjective assessing practices that are out of sync with industry standards, including an over-reliance on hand checks, in which an assessor manually adjusts individual property values. This can result in wildly nonuniform valuation.

The reason for which, according to Cook County’s deputy assessor for valuation and appeals, Thomas Jaconetty, was math, or rather the average man’s aversion to it.

In an interview with the Tribune, Jaconetty posed the question, “Would they be as concerned about their assessments being based purely on math and driven by equations? Or would they feel better knowing there was a human being involved?”

It stands to reason, however, that the vast number of homeowners paying disproportionately high property taxes, especially those with fewer financial resources, would prefer a system that was both accurate and not prone to human prejudices or errors.

Take, for instance, Barbara Garner, a Melrose Park area widow. In 2010, she decided to downsize from her 2,000 square foot, four-bedroom, two story home for a single story home with less than 800 square feet built just after World War II.

Most people downsizing to older homes already face a significantly higher cost of maintenance than those who can afford to downsize to newer properties. For instance, the Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends that anyone purchasing a home 40 years or older should pay for a professional inspection for possible hazards.

Traditionally, such costs would be mitigated when downsizing by the reduction in property taxes. But for Garner the new tax bill was almost the same as the price for her previous home, nearly $4,000 a year, despite the difference in size.

The reason? The assessor, a human, had valued the house at more than twice what Garner had actually bought the house for, claiming the property was valued at $164,640 instead of the $75,000 Garner paid.

“I blew a gasket,” Garner said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “I moved here to save money but instead I was paying the same amount in taxes.”

While many politicians are already voicing their opposition to the tax hikes, Cook County Clerk David Orr has taken criticisms a step farther, attacking not only the recent increase, but property taxes as well.

In the 2016 Tax Rate Report from his office, Orr is quoted saying: “property taxes are inherently regressive and disproportionately impact people in poorer regions. The overreliance on this mechanism of funding local government compounds existing inequities.”

Coming Soon: A 76-Story Apartment Tower On Chicago’s Skyline

Chicago’s skyline is getting a new addition with the construction of a 76-story apartment tower at the southern end of Grant Park. DNAinfo reports that this building will be the tallest south of Willis Tower, comprising 792 units. This project is one of two towers planned by Miami developer Crescent Heights.

“To have the opportunity to bookend this remarkable open space is a responsibility that we continue to be aware of every day,” project architect Rafael Viñoly said in a statement, according to DNAinfor. “One Grant Park takes on the structural clarity, and the logic of purpose, that characterizes Chicago’s great high-rise building tradition.”

In a recent Urban Land Institute survey, 50% of respondents said that walkability was either the top or a priority when choosing where to live. Many professionals are looking to downtown Chicago, as the city has been ranked the sixth most walkable city in the United States. With its park-side location, the South Loop is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Chicago and this project will house those flooding to the area, according to DNAinfo.

“We’re excited to begin construction on a building that will deliver an exceptional living experience befitting — and named after — this coveted location alongside Grant Park,” Crescent Heights Managing Principal Bruce Menin said in a statement, according to Chicago Business.

DNAinfo reports that the city is also planning to construct several other towers in the area, including a 73-story tower that will be at 1000 S. Michigan Ave. As developers continue to pull buyers toward cities, the $900 billion construction market may be commissioned to build more towers like this. Ron Caplan, the president of PMC Property Group, said in a statement to CNBC that this push is being filled by those working in cities. Caplan works with development in Pittsburg, Baltimore, and Columbia S.C.

“So far the development that we’ve done has been embraced by a continuing larger population,” he said. “We have found that the buildings continue to fill up.”

Construction of the project is already underway, according to DNAinfo. Building projects like this almost always require structural shoring to keep workers safe and expedite the process. When using any of the three types of shoring (inclined, horizontal, or vertical) crews can responsibly work on a tower that is still in use. This construction in particular is funded by a $203 million loan.

One Grant Park is projected to open in early 2019.