Include the West Side in the Community Catalyst Fund

We thank the Austin Weekly News for publishing the following letter to the editor.  Photo credit: Second City Cop Blog.

The Mayor has proposed the new $100 million Community Catalyst Fund designed to invest in businesses in communities that are most in need.  A governing board consisting of the City of Chicago CFO, City Treasurer, Commissioner of Planning and Development, and four mayoral appointees will establish investment criteria and policies with input from an advisory council consisting of two aldermen and three community representatives. The targeted communities and manner in which investment decisions will be made are yet to be determined.

We, the members of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC), support the overall concept of the Community Catalyst Fund, and would encourage the team responsible for the implementation to solicit further input from local communities as the program is finalized. This will only strengthen the program.

NLCCC is a group of North Lawndale stakeholders, including nearly 300 community-based organizations, business owners, elected officials and individuals that have come together to guide our community’s first comprehensive planning and implementation process since 1958.  We believe that there should be representation from Chicago’s West Side on the Community Catalyst Fund (“the Fund”) governing board as well as the advisory council. In times past, the West Side has been excluded from a number of the City’s innovative economic development programs, and we are under-represented on the governing boards for various City commissions. It is important that communities that are in most need also have a voice at the policy level to ensure that programs are responsive and deliver the maximum impact.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to small business development, and every establishment is different. The Fund should take a comprehensive approach that will tap into a variety of public and private resources to provide a broad array of financial products and services to small businesses that are at varying stages of development, from start-up to mature.  Examples include low interest micro-loans, New Markets Tax Credits, mezzanine debt and equity investments with longer investment horizons. At the same time, the Fund should provide funding for community-based CDFI’s (community development financial institutions), SBA-certified Small Business Development Centers and other intermediaries to provide technical assistance to small businesses seeking funding in order to minimize investment risk.

The Fund’s board should develop investment criteria that are more flexible than conventional financing while safeguarding investor capital, and prioritize projects that will create jobs and provide incentives for hiring residents of the communities in which the projects are located. There should also be accountability to ensure that jobs that are promised materialize. Finally, the Fund should consider clustering public works projects to enhance its investments and spur additional private investment in high need areas.

We look forward to an investment fund that will catalyze investment on the West Side, and high-need communities around the City of Chicago.

— North Lawndale Coordinating Committee Exec. Subcommittee

Valerie F. Leonard, Rodney Brown and Dr. Dennis Deer, Members

THE WATCHDOGS: Daley aiming for $15 million green-card bonanza

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his son are aiming to cash in on a federal program that offers green cards to wealthy foreigners with a deal that could bring their company $15 million, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

Tur Partners — which Daley formed with his son Patrick Daley after leaving office — is seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to solicit $150 million from foreign investors to help finance construction of a downtown skyscraper through a controversial visa program known as EB-5. More


Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: How insiders work toxic deals for taxpayers

The following editorial ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on October 11, 2016. Photo of warehouse in Little Village by Leslie Adkins/Chicago Sun-Times.

Allow us today to discuss two realities of life and how they can go all wrong in Chicago.

1] When money for city employee pensions is blown on a bad investment, retirees don’t get smaller pensions. Those pensions are guaranteed. You, the Chicago taxpayer, must make up the difference. So you would hope the people who pick and choose pension fund investments are incredibly diligent. But this is Chicago.

2] Sometimes the city gives a big property tax break to a developer who promises to create new jobs. Nothing wrong with that. But you would hope that enough new jobs are created to justify the tax break. But, again, this is Chicago. More

From the Chicago Sun-Times-WATCHDOGS: Taxpayers may be out $8M on site tied to Daley nephews

The following story ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on October 9, 2016. Photo of Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson from Sun-Times files.

Tim Novak

Over the past nine years, two nephews of former Mayor Richard M. Daley have been involved in separate plans to redevelop a rundown warehouse on 15 acres of polluted land in Little Village just north of the Stevenson Expressway.

It hasn’t turned out well for Chicago taxpayers. First, taxpayers have to make up for $4.2 million in city pension money invested on behalf of teachers, police officers and other city workers that ended up squandered on failed development plans involving Daley’s oldest nephew, Robert G. Vanecko. Now, taxpayers stand to lose another $4.1 million on the same property at 3348 S. Pulaski Rd. That’s the amount of a property-tax break given to a second redevelopment deal for the site. More

Ideas from the North Lawndale Neighborhood Start Fund

Neighborhood Start Fund was founded by Lupe Fiasco and Di-Ann Eisnor to turn ideas into start-ups.  We need more diverse entrepreneurs bringing fresh ideas and new innovations to life.

So, they created a neighborhood-specific fund to support entrepreneurs and start-ups from underserved areas and of course so the best new ideas won’t go wasted. They provide access, network, workshops, mentoring and of course funding. Learn more here 

While the application is closed for North Lawndale entrepreneurs at this time, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council would like to highlight the ideas that were presented by budding North Lawndale entrepreneurs.  We are showcasing below a Power Point presentation that was presented by the team of Thom Alcazar, Bob Shaunnessey and Eric Pettersen with their funding application.  Thom is a member of NLCCC.

If you, or anyone you know, has presented an idea for submission to the Neighborhood Start Fund, please feel free to contact Valerie F. Leonard at, to have your idea posted on this blog.  We are presenting these ideas to show other North Lawndale residents what is possible.  We have used a photo from the Neighborhood Start Fund website to emphasize that point.  Enjoy!

NLCCC in the Media: Involve Community Residents in the Development of Roosevelt and Kostner

We thank those of you who have taken the time to comment on the Crain’s letter regarding the proposed development on Kostner and Roosevelt. Your comments are insightful and, it gave us pleasure to see the love and support from you. Some of you were not able to read the letter because you don’t have a subscription.  Here is the text to the letter we shared.

August 16, 2016

Last week, Crain’s Chicago Business wrote that the developer Clarius Partners had proposed an industrial development at the northeast corner of Roosevelt Road and Kildare Avenue that would total 320,000 square feet, including 61,000 square feet of retail space. The source was a report prepared for the Chicago Community Development Commission, which unanimously approved the sale of the 21-acre city-owned development site to Clarius.

As the North Lawndale Coordinating Council, we have an interest in this development. We’re a group of community leaders, business owners and elected officials who have long been working to improve the built environment in our neighborhood and to increase the capacity of local organizations to make a positive impact on the community.

It should be noted that North Lawndale has not had a comprehensive planning process in over 50 years, and this particular site has been the source of community angst for decades. The site was one of the illegal dumping sites associated with Operation Silver Shovel back in the 1990’s. Later on, a movie studio was proposed for the site, and then a major grocery store. Neither development came to fruition. Most recently, this site was selected for the UIC-North Lawndale Obama Presidential Library bid. When the site was not selected, the community was disappointed once again.

Such rejection hurts us more than most communities, since we have had very little success attracting large scale sustainable development that benefits local residents.

We’re cautiously optimistic that there is a proposal, and we’re eager to know more about it. Our council supports development that is consistent with our core values of transparency, accountability and sincere and authentic community engagement. We invite Clarius Partners to provide input into our comprehensive planning process currently under way. We urge them to share more details about their proposed development with the community in public settings and we demand that they are open to questions and input.

But there are conditions that any developer seeking support from our community should deliver upon—conditions that maximize opportunities for current residents and local business owners. This includes:

• adhering to an agreement to prioritize local hiring;

• taking advantage of tax credits for hiring ex-offenders and very low income people

• tapping into TIFWorks funding to train and hire local residents to work in the business concerns that will be developed there

• helping these local businesses take advantage of federal HUB Zone certifications

• putting legally-binding mechanisms in place so that local residents, minority contractors, women-owned businesses and other disadvantaged businesses get a chunk of the contracting opportunities.

We don’t just want promises. We ask that Clarius track progress towards these goals and share updates with the community from time to time. In fact, we’d be more than happy to provide links to these reports on the NLCCC website (

In closing, we look forward to a development process that is transparent, inclusive and impactful to the North Lawndale community.


Members of the NLCCC Executive Subcommittee:

Valerie F. Leonard,
Rodney Brown,
Dennis Deer,