Brighton Park migrant encampment scrapped

One week after crews began installing massive tents and power generators for a “base camp” on a city-leased lot at 38th and California, Governor J.B. Pritzker abruptly canceled construction on Tuesday. It’s the latest chapter in the city’s difficult response to more than 20,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in the past year, most of them since Mayor Brandon Johnson took office in May. The state-funded camp would have sheltered up to 2,000 asylum seekers in heated tents and be run by GardaWorld Services, a controversial security company that has run immigrant detention facilities, as the Weekly reported in September. Johnson proposed using such camps as a temporary solution to the influx of migrants, many of whom are awaiting a spot in the city’s brick-and-mortar shelter system while sleeping outside police stations. Most stations have been cleared, but close to 1,000 are still camping out at them and sleeping at O’Hare Airport. The Brighton Park location was controversial from the start, drawing protests from some neighbors and criticism from conservative alderpersons, and Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th) said she’d been kept in the dark about the plan.  

The city commissioned an outside consultant’s environmental impact study of the formerly industrial site to determine whether it was safe for residential use. The 800-page report, released last Friday, found mercury, arsenic, lead, and other potentially toxic pollutants in soil samples. (Despite assurances the report would be made public the previous week, reporters had to file Freedom of Information Act requests late Friday to get the administration to release it.) The report recommended covering the site with six inches of packed gravel to make it safe for sheltering migrants, and Johnson had earlier said such remediation efforts were “very much a part” of his plan for the site. Johnson halted construction on Sunday pending a review of the report by his administration. On Tuesday, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) said the soil at the site “does not meet state cleanup standards for residential use,” prompting Prizker to scrap the development. City and state officials are now looking for other sites for temporary shelter during the cold months. Meanwhile, crews have begun to fence and clear a vacant building and parking lot at 115th and Halsted for a similar tent base camp.

Ramova Theatre to reopen by end of year

Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson, and Quincy Jones have joined efforts to renovate and reopen the historic Bridgeport Theater. The theater, which sits at 35th and Halsted and sports an iconic green marquee that looms over the sidewalk, opened in 1929 and ran for nearly sixty years until closing in 1985. Developer Tyler Nevius purchased the theater from the city in 2017 for $1 and has since led a $38 million renovation of the building, with $9 million coming from TIF dollars in 2022. In November, it was announced that Jones, Hudson, and Chance will be co-owners of the theater, which in addition to housing a single-screen movie theater, will include a 1,500-seat live music space, and a taproom and grill, according to Variety. The theater’s first event is a 1920s-themed party scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

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