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Four years later, renovation of Cottage Grove Green station yet to begin

Daley’s restaurant, a historic institution in Woodlawn, is hopping once again after the city fully reopened June 11. After 126 years, the city’s oldest restaurant is enjoying its new location after it moved across the street at 63rd and Cottage Grove in 2019.

It was part of a successful plan by leaders of the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) to renovate the 63rd Street commercial corridor after it purchased a string of properties. As the new landlord, POAH rehabbed buildings, and storefronts were given makeovers. Today, on the north side of 63rd and Cottage Grove, sit 55 new affordable housing units and Daley’s restaurant, more than twice as big as its original location.

What was once a crumbling area in Woodlawn is now an attractive part of the neighborhood. All that’s left to do is renovate the rusty Green Line station next to Daley’s on the northeast corner of 63rd and Cottage Grove.

Four years ago, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference unveiled plans to renovate the station. Long overdue, the plans were a chance for the CTA to restore trust in a community after it demolished several Green Line stations a few decades ago.

Today, the Cottage Grove Green Line station, the last south eastbound stop on the nearly 21-mile line, remains an aging eyesore in an area that’s on the rebound.

Emanuel’s plans are turning out to be another empty promise in a CTA system that historically has been accused of neglecting the city’s oldest ‘L’ line.

But earlier this month, the CTA unveiled its $180 million plan to dramatically overhaul the 126-year-old State and Lake station that would double the size of the platform and install a sweeping glass canopy to protect riders from rain and snow. In addition, the project would install four new elevators with two on each side of the platform.

“Given that the State and Lake CTA Station lies within the beating heart of Chicago, we must pave the way for its full modernization and make it easily accessible for all transit riders,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “In addition to accessibility, this project also demonstrates our commitment to the full revival of the Loop—which is the economic engine and cultural hub of our great city.”

“The intersection of State and Lake streets is an iconic location in the heart of Chicago, and it deserves a station that makes a bold statement while meeting the needs of the 21st century transit customer,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. Construction of the State and Lake station is expected to take three years.

But what about the plans to renovate the Cottage Grove station? Those plans were unveiled in 2017, but CTA officials have not released a timeline on when the long-overdue project will start and when it will be completed. 

On April 24, 2017, a Crusader reporter attended Mayor Emanuel’s press conference on a vacant lot that would eventually be the site of POAH’s new, mixed use, 55-unit development that would cost $30 million to build. CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr., then-Chi- cago Department of Transportation Commissioner, and Rebekah Scheinfeld were on hand as Emanuel announced conceptual plans to revitalize and renovate the Cottage Grove Green Line station.

Several POAH officials and Congressman Bobby Rush were also at the press conference. Renderings of the plans were made available to the press. Emanuel, Carter and another official showed a blown-up rendering of the new project on the platform of the station. Emanuel later tweeted a picture of himself and Carter showing off the new designs.

The new designs showed a sleek, modern façade on the southeast corner of Cottage Grove and 63rd Street. The façade is shown hovering over renovated glossy storefronts. The design also includes a similar façade covering the entire south portion of the station on 63rd Street. As part of the proposed project, a new stationhouse and pedestrian bridge would be built into part of the development on the southeast corner of 63rd and Cottage Grove.

In its 2017 story, “Major renovations planned for Green Line station,” the Crusader reported that the “conceptual plan for Cottage Grove proposes visual, architectural and lighting treatments outside of the station to enhance the experience of both CTA customers and pedestrians. Options under consideration include architectural screening and community identifiers along sidewalks and on the “L” structure. Changes to the station itself could include new canopies and reconfigured stairs.”

The Crusader story in 2017 also reported that “the CTA and CDOT are working to develop a full project scope and estimated budget for the project. Details are expected to be finalized later this year.”

“We are investing in the future of the CTA, and in the future of Woodlawn,” said then-Mayor Emanuel. “Investments like this one strengthen communities, attract private investment and drive neighborhood growth.”

Carter, the CTA president, said, “As with the Garfield Green Line station and the Belmont Blue Line station, here at Cottage Grove we see an opportunity to create an attractive community gateway that will serve as a hub for Woodlawn.”

At the press conference, Congressman Rush said, “I am pleased that the historic CTA Green Line will get the attention it needs and deserves. Even as the Woodlawn community continues to enjoy a revitalization, its hardworking residents are deserving of a station that is attractive, modernized, and safe. I look forward to seeing these plans come to fruition.”

The press conference came four days after POAH officials announced its $30 million project that was called the Woodlawn Station. They expressed hope the project would further rejuvenate Woodlawn in anticipation of the impending construction of the nearby Obama Presidential Center and Library.  POAH has completed most of its project. But the renovation plans for the Green Line have yet begun.

The Crusader emailed the CTA asking for the status of the Cottage Grove project. The CTA responded with an email sent after business hours. In it, the CTA said that it “is working collaboratively with POAH to finalize conceptual designs, as well as efforts to secure funding for their portion of the project, which is necessary in order for the project to advance to the next phase.”

So, the designs that Emanuel released to the press weren’t finalized? A Crusader reporter asked the question of Irene, a CTA staff member who did not give her last name.  Irene said she would get back to the Crusader on that and other questions but did not, as of press time for the Crusader’s print edition.

It’s unclear how much the project will cost. However, documents show the CTA in 2020 and 2021 allocated $60 million for the project. In its email, the CTA said it has already invested about $800,000 worth of station improvement work at Cottage Grove, as part of the Green Line Rehabilitation Project.

There were also questions as to whether Emanuel rushed to announce the proposed renovation without funding lined up.

It was one of several projects Eman- uel announced, as he sought to repair his reputation in the Black community after he was accused of campaigning for the Black vote in his re-election bid, as City Hall suppressed the video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

800px Cottage Grove

The Cottage Grove station is one of the CTA’s oldest, built in 1893 as part of the city’s first elevated rail line—the South Side CTA “L” that served the World’s Columbian Exposition. In 1991, a $4.9 million reconstruction project was completed on the station. 

The station serves more than 1,000 customers on an average weekday, with more than 372,000 riders in 2016.

The CTA sowed distrust in the Black community when it closed six stations on the Green Line on the South and West sides during a $350 million overhaul in 1994, then the largest project in the city’s history.

One of them was the University station in Jackson Park, which despite protests from residents was demolished. Residents also supported an effort to build a Dorchester station, but then-Alderman Arenda Troutman and Reverend Arthur Brazier were against it and favored more residential projects.

Residents say the University station should have remained to serve the future Obama Presidential Center.

In its email, CTA officials said “the Cottage Grove station will serve as a gateway to the Woodlawn neighborhood, are continuing to advance.” They also said the station is “a cornerstone and important transit hub for the Woodlawn neighborhood, providing thousands of rail rides each weekday and connecting residents with major bus routes.”

Rahm emanuels Tweet e1634930279951
THEN-MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL tweeted a photo of himself presenting a rendering of the Green Line Cottage Grove Station on the platform with CTA president Dorval Carter Jr.

Thanks to the generosity of funding provided by The Field Foundation of Illinois, Inc. in producing this article.

(Published in the Chicago Crusader Newspaper June 26, 2021)

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