EAST CHICAGO | Marktown residents are seeking answers from East Chicago on why a revitalization plan crafted five years ago for the community wasn't carried out.
The plan, written in 2008, recommended ways to improve the historic neighborhood bordered by industry at Pine Avenue and Riley Road. It called for the addition of a water feature and public sculpture at its entrances, a new community center and a bike path.
“I would love to see the 2008 plan go through,” said Kim Rodriguez, Marktown’s precinct committeewoman. “But in all reality, I really don’t see them putting a new center here for us, especially with BP looming over us.
“They could take us or leave us. I mean, we are not a priority on their list," Rodriguez said. "We’ve never been. We’ve usually had to fight for whatever there is we’ve had done out here. It took us 16 years to finally get the streets finished.”
Carrying out the plan seems to have lost steam with changes in the city’s administration.
But with BP expressing interest in buying property in the neighborhood, a group of Marktown residents have signed a petition calling for action on the plan.
East Chicago Redevelopment Director Maria Becerra said while there are no current plans to revive the 2008 document, the Redevelopment Commission has held meetings in Marktown to gauge the improvements residents want to see.
“I don’t know why it wasn’t followed through from my predecessor,” Becerra said of the 2008 plan. “Can we go back and look at what needs to be done and can be done? Sure. The money we receive every year is allocated citywide.”
Marktown stands as an example of turn-of-the-century worker housing significant to Northwest Indiana’s industrial heritage. The community, built in 1917, was meant to house workers of the Mark Manufacturing Co. and their families.
While unique, Marktown was not a novel concept at the time. Less than 12 miles away, another company town was built for the Pullman Palace Car Co. beginning in 1880. The neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side still carries the Pullman name and, like Marktown, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Though close in proximity, differences exist between the communities in terms of historical preservation and how adjoining land uses have evolved.
While Marktown has had a front row seat to the expansion of the BP Whiting Refinery and ArcelorMittal, the area around Pullman has had a more residential focus. Currently, Pullman is seeking National Park status.
“Probably the most significant difference in Pullman and Marktown is the intensity and the potential volatility of the industrial uses surrounding it,” said Michael Shymanski, president of the Historic Pullman Foundation.
“I guess the real challenge for the preservation movement is, how do you address historic resources that are in locations that are a health risk or are where the people can be potentially physically at risk because of the close proximity to an oil refinery?”
Pullman also achieved city landmark status, meaning applications for building permits affecting the facade of a historic property must go through the Commission on Chicago Landmarks for review and approval.
It’s a critical control Marktown lacks, said Paul Myers, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. Myers has sought for the city to pass an ordinance creating a historic review board to oversee changes to historical properties, but so far, he said the city has not shown interest.
“Marktown is prime for that,” Myers said. “If we just could get the city to understand, historic preservation is just one more step forward from code enforcement to preserve the nation’s history.”
Myers said a major drive of the 2008 revitalization plan was to improve the housing stock.
“Who in the world in Marktown doesn’t want their home revitalized? Why do we have to re-plan this? ... We want them to invest money in revitalizing the homeownership in Marktown,” Myers said. “I don’t understand what part of that they miss.”
Yet, Ruby Powell-Flowers, president of the East Chicago Redevelopment Commission, said the city is working out what needs to be done in Marktown.
“What we’re trying to do is see what the citizens are interested in having done,” Powell-Flowers said, “and work together on the blueprint to accomplish what needs to be done in that community.”
Marktown resident Juanita McCormick, who attended the Redevelopment Commission’s meeting Monday in the community, said she gathered homeowners would need to lead revitalization efforts. Rodriguez said city officials shared information on home rehabilitation grants at the meeting.
“Yes they got that assistance out there,” McCormick said. “But unless you're making no money or on Social Security, you don't qualify for those grants. ...so it's like 'Yeah we got all of this stuff that we can help,' but I think in a way it will hurt us. I'm pretty sure most of the homeowners can't afford to do these repairs and won't qualify for those loans.”