Monday, November 1, 2010

What Alderman Balcer Sees on Halsted Street

If you ask Alderman Balcer to describe what he’d like to see happen on Halsted Street, he starts, probably naturally enough for an alderman, with what’s already been accomplished.

The ground’s been laid with major streetscape improvements – all new curbs and stamped pedestrian treads at the intersections. The sidewalk is lined with decorative lamps and bracketed with big redevelopment projects: a stately police station at one end, a handsome condominium block at the other.

In between, the Alderman rattles off a list of shops that have all come on line in the last few years. Named in sequence, there are a lot of them.

Cermak Produce will join Blue City Cycles, 123 Express Chinese Restaurant, Tacos Erendira, Ace Bakery and Nana Restaurant, Emergency Shoe Repair and Alternations, the revamped Halsted Foods, Noodles Pho You and Evolution Fitness, Rings and Wings in the condominium building, Oscar’s Jewelry in its new Halsted location, and Bridgeport Tattoo.

In fact, he missed a couple, and his list, laced with enthusiastic superlatives, actually extends from the park in the old Stearns Quarry (with “400 million year old fossils” at the bottom of it and “views of the whole city” at the top), to the quaint and very tasty Bake for Me Café across from the stockyards.

For 10 years developers lined up in his office; now that they’re scarce, people sometimes complain about what actually got done. Several of those businesses he names were already here, they just moved to new quarters or redid their facades.

In response to which, Alderman Balcer observes “People see what they want to see.” And after all, if Bridgeport’s longtime business owners see opportunity to reinvest and grow, and if the city sometimes helps them, that can’t look all bad.

I’ve heard one or two new entrepreneurs say they want to coordinate to support other small business, so their investment doesn’t just lay the ground for the big chains to come in.

I’ve heard another acquaintance speculate that if there is a master plan for what happens in Bridgeport, it’s that it not turn out like Wrigleyville – a frat house row of bars around the stadium and the speculators driving elderly voters out of the houses they’ve lived in all their lives.

When I ask Alderman Balcer if there is development he thinks would be bad for Halsted Street, he sounds more concerned about junk shops than sports bars; when I ask if there is a written planning document he’s using as a guide for what ought to come, he says “There was one, but now I play it by ear.”

The Alderman acknowledges there is one more big redevelopment project in the works for central Halsted Street -- the vacant Wendt Furniture, most recently occupied by a dollar store that sold plastic goods out of cardboard bins, will go down, and the public library will expand into its space. But other than that, he says there are no more plans to demolish swaths of old storefronts for big civic projects.

He says the future of Halsted is in lots of small shops. “It can’t all be Target and Walmart.” An avid pedestrian who pops up everywhere on his neighborhood strolls, he says “You need foot traffic, or nobody’s going to come.” And when I squeezed in one last question about Barkaat Foods, which moved into the old Chiapetti’s plant down Halsted’s wholesale food district, he affirms they are an asset, compatible with the breadth of uses on Halsted Street.

All of which is pretty much what I’d hoped to hear him say. Though I am sure I hear what I want to hear as much as anybody else.


  1. I went to Nana a couple of weeks ago, and it was great to see some of the new shops and streetscape improvements. But I was surprised and a bit dismayed to see a Buffalo Wild Wings.

  2. Being involved in helping in the search for affordable rents on Halsted for a few friends, I think some of the blame lays with the building owners themselves. It's simply too easy for a long time owner of a paid off property to hold out for unreasonable rents in the hope that the neighborhood is on the verge of change. A combination of fear and greed. Can't say I blame them entirely. It's the American way.

  3. I like your blog, but you should make your photos expandable. What's the point of having linked photos that are the same size as the embedded ones?

  4. Hmmm - interesting distinction. I was not actually aware I was "linking" photos rather than embedding them, but I will look into this tonight and maybe replace some of the previous links with links to the full size photos :)

  5. Triple the size would be fine. No need to link to original size photos that take forever to download.

    Plus blogspot puts a limit on uploading... or at least they used to.

    Digging the blog, Kristin.

  6. @Dan: I don't know if this will make a difference to you, but that's Buffalo Wings & Rings, not Buffalo Wild Wings.

    Both franchisors are Midwest based. Wings & Rings (the Bridgeport store) is based in Ohio and Wild Wings (not in Bridgeport) in Minnesota.

    I wonder if there are any tools or maps we can develop that would help visitors, residents, and business owners get to know each other (or the existence of each other).

    I wonder what kind of effects wayfinding signs have on neighborhoods.

  7. Maybe you dont like rings, but at least this place is clean and has some drinks! I really dont like sports bars, but all people cant be the same...we need a mix of big and small. The alternative of boarded up liquor stores is not good for anyone....We need to get to work on this depressed me when I saw moss growing in a window. BTW why the Frat Guy comment?? Why's everybody got hate on someone? We need divirsity..yes that includes frat guys too!!!!

  8. Cool website, Kristin. Please keep posting!

  9. Very good Kristin ... you're doing a good job.

  10. Agreed, your site is a great asset to Bridgeport -- keep posting.

  11. Love this blog, Originally from the northside, I am so proud to live in Bridgeport! It is a very unique place. Thanks Kristin!

  12. I like your blog. I used to get haircuts at the 5.50 man and sadly the street has lost a lot of business. Glad to see the seeds of regrowth are being planted.

  13. What I always wonder is why the police station had to take up an entire, what, block and a half. I get MY haircut at Joe's on 26th, but he says his shop used to be on Halsted where the police station is.

    There's such a lack of creativity in a couple hundred feet of suburban style police car parking.. in my opinion that eminent domain was very destructive to the corridor's future.