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January 24, 2012

Abandoned project an ugly menace, 47th Street residents say

[img id="91745" align="left"/] Unfinished development from 2005 on East 47th Street has drawn the ire of some residents, who say that, despite its intentions to increase commerce, the project is a stain on the local landscape and presents a danger for pedestrians.

Delayed construction of a theater has resulted in the prolonged removal of the sidewalks at the corner of East 47th Street and South Greenwood Avenue. While a barrier on the road protects pedestrians on East 47th Street, some have called the construction a safety hazard.

“It’s dangerous to not have a sidewalk on that part of Greenwood. On the Greenwood side there’s no sidewalk, no place for pedestrians to walk,” resident Gail Garcia said.

Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago, an African dance-theater group, purchased the lot for the theater in 2000 with hopes of building a new community arts center, which they hoped would also support local businesses. However, the project ground to a halt after initial miscalculations about construction costs, and was abandoned in 2008 after the local bank that provided the loan collapsed.

The nail in the coffin for the development was the loss of a $1.75 million grant from the Empowerment Zone Program, a federal initiative under the Department of Housing and Urban Development that aimed to revitalize distressed neighborhoods and expired in 2009, according to Muntu president Joan Gray. The Empowerment Zone grant expired “just as we were preparing to mobilize,” she said.

The construction has also garnered more aesthetic complaints.

“It’s an eyesore,” Garcia said.

But the abandonment of the project hasn’t just been a source of inconvenience and frustration for residents. Business owners like Djibrilou Ba, whose Senegalese boutique “Goree Shop” is next-door to the construction, had high hopes for the theater that was never built.

“The reason I opened this shop right here is because they were supposed to open the Muntu Dance,” Ba said. “If they open it I’m for sure going to have more customers. Everything I sell here is about African clothes, African stuff, you know. And what they planned to open over there was for African dance.”

Muntu will come to a resolution on the development at an upcoming meeting with city officials and then make a public announcement regarding the project’s future, according to Gray.

Gray said she understands the frustrations of residents of the neighborhood. “The organization did its best efforts to bring this project to completion—it just wasn’t able to happen.”

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