How UC can be better

11/21/2012 10:00 PM

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When word came down last week that the Bulls were officially planning on moving their practice facility next to the United Center, we were thrilled.

The sea of concrete around Chicago’s finest arena has long served as a barrier to business development and became a de facto wall that kept the West Loop’s prosperity from fully jumping to the Near West Side.

Initially, we thought the practice center would start tipping the scales. Filling one parking lot was just what the neighborhood needed! A bridge would be built between the United Center and the rest of the city.

But the more we thought about it — and looked at the stark rendering, with a giant steel wall that faces potentially bustling Madison Street — we realized this wasn’t a solution. This is not the kind of thing that activates a neighborhood, persuading legions of fans to hang around before and after a game, livening up the area.

What the area really needs is businesses for these people to go to. That could potentially come in the form of a complex that would be built in the lot between the practice center and the arena, but the Bulls and Blackhawks are holding out on that until they get a new property tax break from the state.

Talking to Earnest Gates, the Near West Side’s gruff font of wisdom, it became clear that what the city needs is to double down on making it into an entertainment area, as they have with Motor Row in the South Loop. That would come in the form of a master plan for the area, or a wholesale zoning change.

Speaking of Motor Row, it’s no coincidence that these two areas are starting to become such strong parallels, and that both appear to be fighting for the right to serve as DePaul University’s home court for basketball. These are two areas just a stone’s throw away from large, successful new developments (though Motor Row is closer). Both have massive untapped potential, Motor Row in old buildings prime to be rehabbed and the United Center in vast vacant lots and parking lots.

These are two stories we’ve tracked with great interest at Chicago Journal in the past few years, and will continue to going forward as long as we publish. We hope to survive long enough to tell the whole story.

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