Dowell puts Bronzeville front and center

If Chicago wins its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, Bronzeville will be transformed, local officials say.

The neighborhood will host the Olympic Village and after the games conclude, thousands of housing units built for the occasion will be sold at market rate, sparking concerns of some residents who don’t want working-class families pushed out of Bronzeville because of spiraling costs.

“Lots of vacant land to do a lot with,” says Alderman Pat Dowell (D-3) about the approximately 3,000 empty lots in her ward’s portion of the Bronzeville neighborhood.

Some Bronzeville residents are concerned about displacement through eminent domain, but Dowell noted that as of now, none of the planned Olympic venues would fall within the ward’s boundaries.

Still, she has put together a Third Ward Olympic Advisory Committee that will work closely with the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee team and community groups, including Housing Bronzeville and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

Officials from the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Dowell took office in June 2007, replacing long-time alderman Dorothy Tillman. She has worked closely with Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (D-4), who describes Dowell as a good ally, especially in the fight for affordable housing.

“We’re both working toward having mixed income neighborhoods that have a substantial amount of affordable housing,” Preckwinkle says.

However, Arthur Brown, a Third Ward resident and co-chairman of Housing Bronzeville, says Dowell does “a mediocre job” when it comes to affordable housing.

 “She’s been willing to sit down and communicate with us, but that’s about the size of it,” Brown says. “She hasn’t been helpful in helping us achieve our goals, even a part of our goals.”

Dowell says she agrees with Housing Bronzeville’s overall mission of creating more affordable housing, but not its goal of setting aside 26 percent of the ward’s vacant land for the endeavor.

“Let’s not deal with the 26 percent right now,” she says. “Let’s just try to get some housing built. Show me that you have the capacity to build the housing, that you have a design that’s going to fit in with the existing character of the community. They have to be able to demonstrate that they can actually get something done.”

Kenneth Williams, also a Housing Bronzeville co-chairman, says he understands Dowell’s argument.

“She seems to be a pretty fair minded young lady,” says Williams, a Fourth Ward resident. “She just wants to see something that she can work with.”

Dowell, a native New Yorker who served in the late Mayor Harold Washington’s administration, also says her constituents want access to jobs.

The alderman says retail development in her ward will translate into jobs. She helped recruit a major grocery store, Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010 at 39th and State streets.

Chicago is competing against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo to host the Olympics. The final selection will be made on Oct. 2 in Denmark.

If Chicago is chosen, the games would be held from July 22 to Aug. 7, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 12 and Aug. 28.