By William Godwin - March 23, 2010
On the historic southeast corner of 47th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, The Harold Washington Cultural Center is an impressive, fitting tribute to Chicago’s first black mayor. Valued at $15 million, this awesome piece of rare commercial real estate in the area is threatened with foreclosure, owing a $1.2 million loan to financially strapped Shore Bank.
According to the Center’s website, “The loan with ShoreBank was 2 months ($21,000) delinquent. Tobacco Road, Incorporated went to court to pay the past due amount owed (including penalties and late fees) and to show proof of the ability to pay the loan forward. ShoreBank would not allow this and have accelerated the loan. ShoreBank will not reinstate the loan.” Seems strange for a bank under Federal Investigation for insufficient reserves! In response to this unfortunate situation, The Center has launched a major fundraising drive to raise the $1.2 million so the Center can move forward with its work.
The site of concerts, community events, plays, and talent shows, it’s the baby, if you will, of long-time former Alderman Dorothy Tillman who fought hard for this center. Nestled at an intersection that was once the thriving epicenter of Chicago’s Black Cultural Renaissance, “The state-of-the-art, 40,000-sq. ft. education and entertainment facility boasts countless features that contribute directly to the current revitalization efforts and economic redevelopment of the Grand Boulevard/Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.”
The Center has been charged with failing to host a sufficient number of events, but some community residents believe, according to reports last fall, that the Center has had a positive impact on revitalizing a community that has long been on the rebound. Current Alderman, Pat Dowell, doesn’t feel the same about the Center, according to an interview with CBS Channel 2 news: “It’s run by an amateur. We need to have professional theater or cultural center management there…It’s just not a viable entity in the community.”
The “amateur” Dowell is referring to is former Alderman Tillman’s daughter, Jamilita Tillman, who is “a graduate of DePaul University with a degree in Theater Management and International Marketing and has received extensive training in theater operation from North Shore Country Day School, the Black Ensemble Theater, the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and the ETA Theater.” Dowell unseated Tillman, a 23-year City Council veteran, in a highly contentious election three years ago. Former Ald. Tillman continues to have a strong, well-respected presence in the District through her connections with the Center and other nearby developments.
If no compromise is reached, and none to my knowledge is on the brink, the City which invested heavily into this property will begin to look for other uses to replace this great historic landmark that has preserved and added so much to Bronzeville’s cultural fabric and neighborhood morale. The Center has been good for real estate values and sales, making the area a more desirable place to live because it’s a neighborhood on the turnaround thanks to Tillman’s work. We can’t afford to lose these kinds of community jewels!
To make financial contributions or to find out other ways you can help preserve this great center, please visit their website. If you haven’t been to the Center or aren’t familiar with its splendor, here’s an excellent YouTube Slide Show: