Sherri Kranz - Transcript

Transcript of Sherri Kranz
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: 2/27/13
Place: Edgewater Historical Society
Transcriber: Carly Faison
Total Time: 21:17

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

0:00 DN: My name is Dorothy Nygren and we’re at the Edgewater Historical Society on February 27, 2013. I’m interviewing Sherri Kranz, who is one of our 2013 Living Treasures, and I’d like to congratulate you Sherri, also to thank you for all the work you’ve done in Edgewater. I’d like to start this interview by asking you how you came to Edgewater.

0:28 SK: In 1979 I moved here from Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park, I was priced out of, like many people. I wanted to be near the lakefront, and have vintage property, and have the parks and the beaches and all that. I found a beautiful vintage six-flat on Kenmore in 1979.

0:51 DN: And you’ve lived here ever since.

SK: Ever since. 32 years now. Yeah. On the same block.

DN: Amazing. Amazing considering what’s gone on on that block. So you moved here in 1979 and you got your furniture arranged and got yourself situated and then you got involved in community affairs somehow and I’d like to go back and ask you how that came about.

1:12 SK: I had no background in community organizing or politics and really I had no interest in that in particular, but after living in the neighborhood for three or four years, the crime and other issues began to, you couldn’t ignore them anymore so I contacted our local elected officials. Marion Volini was the alderman at that time. She referred me to the Edgewater Community Council. They organized block watches, and Ed Shorter at that time was involved with Edgewater Community Council, Kathy Osterman who was a former alderman at that time was working for a state’s attorney. They were active in organizing block watches and taking some of the bad landlords to court. I got pulled into that just because it needed so much attention and got involved in the Edgewater Community Council, was elected on the Board of Directors and worked on crime issues for four years in Edgewater.

2:07 DN: So what was the burning issue that pulled you in? Crime? And how did you address that issue?

SK: It was crime and we really identified the reason. Part of the problem was that most of the folks were living in substandard housing that had not been screened properly. We had a lot of rundown dilapidated buildings on Kenmore and Winthrop. We said, “How do we really address this?” There’s an overwhelming problem, and we looked at it and we said, “We have to establish a professional organization, the Edgewater Community Council, get a professional staff.” At that time, in the very early 1980s, it was run by a volunteer, volunteer board, and there was no executive director. We had some key people like Ed Marciniac of Loyola University and Marion Volini got together and said, “We have to find funds, we have to write the grants to get a professional organization.”

3:00 Operation Winthrop-Kenmore was funded at that time by Loyola. They hired Jack Markowski as executive director, who later went on to become Commissioner of Housing. They did a landmark study by our standards in identifying all the housing on Kenmore and Winthrop. The owners, we set up a task force to address problem owners to take them to housing court, to provide technical assistance if they didn’t have the skills to run their building, and in some cases to seek receivership of the buildings that were out of control.

3:33 Then, over a long period of time, we said after we got the bad guys out and we got the housing court issues taken care of, [unintelligible] Foster and Devon we said, “We must be able to bring in good developers to help grow our community again. So that’s what I became more involved in. The whole long effort of identifying the bad buildings, working with the owners on technical assistance, with screening, with getting better tenants, if the owners would not cooperate the community would bring in a task force from the States Attorney’s Office, the police department. We put pressure on them, they’d either sell the building or go under receivership. So, in a way, Edgewater was unique in its ability to identify a problem and have a long term solution that really worked.

4:19 DN: Now you talked about bad developers and good developers. Could you give some examples of what a bad or good developer would be?

SK: Well, I think I should make the distinction between a developer and just a person who owns property. So there were people who owned properties on Kenmore and Winthrop and by not taking care of them, I mean not screening their tenants. Not keeping the property up and allowing crime to flourish. There are many buildings on Kenmore and Winthrop in the mid 1980s and early 1990s that fit that profile. In most cases, those buildings were turned around really exclusively through the initiative of the community.

5:02 DN: In regard to the Thorndale Task Force, what was your role in that, Sherri?

SK: My role was to–I need to back up and say how it got started. There was a subsidized housing development and we found out through internal sources who worked at Loyola University, actually a Jesuit at that time, who said that HUD had violated their own lending rules on that particular project. We got some internal documents and we went to HUD and we said, “This project cannot be built.” The [Chicago Tribune] did a whole page story on this saying, “Look what HUD has done here. They shouldn’t be building this development.” So my role was to create the base of professionals to put together an opposing force to this. We opposed the project on environmental grounds, on density, on traffic, and so I brought in the attorney, Pat Sharkey, to write the environmental argument, a lawyer to draft the reasons why it violated zoning, and all the professionals, and I had no experience with that. But we knew that we couldn’t take any more subsidized housing on Kenmore and Winthrop.

6:08 We produced this fifty page report and presented it to HUD. We said, “Here’s the internal documents that show you’re violating your own internal guidelines on this.” Tribune did a whole page story on it and the developer withdrew his proposal. It was truly a victory for the community.

6:27 DN: It was a community effort, wasn’t it?

SK: It was all community effort. They were professionals in the community. There was an environmental lawyer we were lucky to have and an attorney who was on the board of ECC at that time. There were many other people that put their oar in the water on that. That, to my recollection, was the first time the community had really taken on a big force in the community and won and it was kind of the beginning of the activism in the early 1980s as far as housing activism.

6:55 DN: Could we talk more about the outgrowth of that activism into the 1990s? How you saw that happening because it sounds as though that community effort to deal with these developers gave rise to certain organizations and structures that carry forward in other ways?

7:14 SK: Exactly. From the Edgewater Community Council getting a professional staff and then the Edgewater Development Corporation, the [Edgewater] Historical Society, the chamber, you know all these organizations followed after that. But it became clear through the 1980s to early 1990s that the residential side of the problem on Kenmore and Winthrop had pretty much been addressed, and again really exclusively through the initiative of community, community organizations and our political leadership. It became clear that the next step was really commercial development as well. It sort of segued from what do we do now? How do we have an environment that Edgewater is going to attract people to live here? You know, people want to move to Edgewater because it’s by the lakefront, and it’s got great transportation, and it’s got beautiful architecture, but nowhere to shop. And we knew that these dollars were leaving Edgewater. That was one of the reasons why people got together and said, “We need a Chamber of Commerce. We need a development corporation.”

8:19 DN: Could you go on with that up until today, how that whole thing birthed other things?

SK: Right. The development corporation worked with, I want to say in the very early 1990s, the Edgewater Development Corporation. At that time, Tina Travis was on the board, she’s now the president, identified two buildings on Bryn Mawr, the Bryn Mawr and the Bell Shore which had about 400 units of housing, as the major obstacle to not only continued residential growth, but to commercial revitalization. There were two properties. It would not be unfair to call them slum properties. When you walked inside you saw that the building was very badly managed. I remember sitting in a meeting one day with Tina Travis and Alderman Smith, Mary Ann Smith, and Mary Ann said, “This can’t stand. This developer has to go, this landlord has to go otherwise Bryn Mawr will never turn around.” From that point on, we had housing inspectors going in. We tried to find developers to take over the property but the previous owner would not sell.

9:28 So through the intervention of the community, through the really inspired political leadership of Alderman Smith at that time, the development corporation, the block clubs there said, “We have to have a new developer come in and take over the Bryn Mawr and the Bell Shore. Otherwise nothing will ever change here.” I remember on the day that. So we took John Hue to housing court. He was in and out of housing court. We kept the pressure on relentlessly and the day that they closed, Peter Holsten was brought in as a developer who could turn it around and get the financing to turn it around. The owner of the property said, “I am so happy to get Mary Ann Smith off my back,” and moved to Lake Forest, never to be seen again.

10:11 And I remember that moment which it closed in January of 1997. From that point forward, at one of the meetings we said, “We want to get the type of commercial development that will bring people to Edgewater. Not just what we can get. We want to get what we want. That was quite a statement in 1995, 1996, 1997 because the only development on Bryn Mawr at that time, the only stores were rundown stores. Some mom and pop ethnic stores. There were four dry cleaners in a three-block stretch between Sheridan Road and Broadway. The money that was available in the development, the Bryn Mawr and Bell Shore, we had money to buy out the leases for the existing tenants there, the commercial tenants. Which we did.

11:05 The community established a task force to deal with the redevelopment, and I was on a task force representing Peter Holsten. The community said, “Well what do we want? What do we want?” The Development Corporation sat down and worked through committee process to develop a list of what the community wanted and reached out to find more uses, which we did. We went out, we bought out the existing tenants, we brought in Starbucks, we brought in Bicycle Shop, Mia Francesca restaurant, and that was such extraordinary intersection that couldn’t have happened anywhere else in Edgewater. Between the political leadership, the really grassroots community effort, the block club, the Development Corporation, of some of the business interests, the builders’ associations, the Uptown Edgewater Builders’ Association. All these groups got together and said, “We want to turn Bryn Mawr around,” and they participated in on-going meetings for years until we got the right development.

12:07 Without the intersection of a developer like Peter Holsten, who had the money and wanted to work with a community, there aren’t many developers like that. Wanting to work with the community in a very sincere way who had the money, who had the technical expertise to make it happen. The intersection of that with the political leadership and the really smart, inspired visionary community groups turned around Bryn Mawr, otherwise it would still be where it is today owned by a slumlord.

12:40 DN: Is there any work yet to be done in Edgewater? What do you think that might be?

SK: There’s always work to be done, and I think that Edgewater has housing now which is aging. Many have said that, not many, but some have said that the condominiums on Sheridan Road are reaching some of their end-of-life issues, being very elderly buildings. Some of the properties, this is just from a housing standpoint, some of the properties on Kenmore and Winthrop that are called four plus ones have long been a problem in terms of the quality of tenants, tenant screening. Many would like to see some of them repurposed, maybe torn down, and have something else built. There have been initiatives over the years. Money’s been given by the city to try to create a more appealing façade there. So from a housing perspective, there’s growth issues right now with some of the housing stock in Edgewater.

13:44 DN: What about the north end of Edgewater? The northwest end around Broadway and Devon?

SK: Broadway and Devon I have no real personal involvement in but I know that the Edgewater Development Corporation is very active in creating plans and reaching out in the community to you know get input for that area. It’s got a lot of institutional and civic interest there because of Loyola, and Loyola’s interest in the area. I know that some of the key people from Loyola are on some of the boards and community groups here. It’s also an intersection of changing ward boundaries there, so you’ve got aldermen from a couple of different wards. I think it’s a work-in-progress over there.

14:36 DN: In terms of Edgewater, we’ve touched on the idea that it might be special in terms of neighborhoods in the city and spoken in different projects and different ways. Could you comment on that a little bit more, if you see Edgewater as being unique among neighbors and why you think that is?

14:55 SK: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite topics, when we talk about communities. I really believe that Edgewater is unique in the city and that it is not rhetoric. Those are not talking points, especially having been in property management here for thirty years here in Edgewater. Edgewater has struggled to get a community identity, meaning by the city. Our wonderful LeRoy Blommaert can take credit for getting Edgewater its community designation of Edgewater.

15:23 But Edgewater was really unknown. It was sandwiched between Uptown and Rogers Park and it was this gem that no one knew about. But when we think of Edgewater, I think of a community that has not only, when people talk about diversity you usually mean racial diversity, but we both economic, racial, and ethnic diversity here. Now in Lincoln Park you may find people from different race and different ethnicities but they’re all the same economic class, broadly speaking. But in Edgewater, you can live next to someone who might be in a housing subsidy or has just bought a million dollar condo on Bryn Mawr. It is wonderful. We have the lakefront, we have great shopping now, we have the beautiful beaches that are protected, we have bicycle lanes, we have Andersonville. The diversity of Edgewater is unique.

16:20 I think there’s nothing like it in Chicago and the community, the initiative of the community, has created such a treasure of community civic organizations that I don’t think have ever been created in the city so quickly with the Development Corporation, the Chamber [of Commerce], all grassroots, and look what we’ve done. We have a beautiful lakefront that’s been protected now, we have great, the armory was given over to community use as the direct result of former alderman Kathy Osterman. It would not have happened without the alderman’s help there. And there’s no other community that’s done what Edgewater has done in twenty-five years.

16:59 DN: I’d like to go back to landmarking buildings, I think you’re involved in that. Are you involved in that? Bob has mentioned something about landmarking?

17:07 SK: Well I wasn’t involved with some of the initiatives that I know the historic society was involved, in trying to work on preservation of some housing stock on Kenmore and Winthrop. When I managed the Bryn Mawr and Bell Shore for seventeen years, and those two properties are landmarks now. So we won a major award for historic preservation, the Bell Shore did, but I wasn’t involved in the actual process of landmarking. That was a city initiative.

17:39 DN: It is a treasure when you drive by down Bryn Mawr, it’s so beautiful now.

SK: Yes, the Bryn Mawr and Bell Shore I really think that most people involved would say the catalyst you know for the change. We got a win-win for everybody there. Historic preservation of a beautiful gem. You had affordable housing without displacement. You had great commercial development that created really truly a synergy once the commercial redevelopment happened. So you know the Bryn Mawr and the Bell Shore were a model really for turning the community around. I think that you can’t even underestimate the extent to which it is a model. How Bryn Mawr was transformed was a model for communities turning themselves around.

18:24 DN: I’d like to ask you what your most significant personal achievement might be up until now?

SK: Living in Edgewater and not being drawn, particularly to community activities or any political involvement, I was just pulled into it simply because the need was so pressing. I really feel, I’ll remember all my life, the experience of working for fifteen years on what we call the Bryn Mawr Project. Working with the community groups, I was on the board of the Development Corporation, the board of the Builders’ Association, and really learned what could be accomplished when people put their oars in the water. Just the regular people. Moms, professionals, the educated, the uneducated. When they have a vision for something, it produced real concrete outcomes. Just to be part of that. I wouldn’t claim to have been a key leader, but I was a catalyst at many points. To see what can be done on Bryn Mawr, the transformation, what I learned about what can be done when we all work together, it truly was something I’ll always remember.

19:35 DN: And lastly, what advice would you give the younger generation?

SK: [Laughs] My goodness. Just that always remember to give more than you’re getting.

DN: Do you have anything else you’d like to add? I’m the one that’s been asking the questions. This is your story, Sherri, is there anything else you’d like to share?

SK: I learned so much in working with people over the last thirty years. Just so many memorable people who’ve given their lives almost over to the community. You know as I mentioned Tina Travlos and her family. I really just want to spend some time thanking them for the incredible inspiring lives that they lead. Tina Travlos and her mother June. Kathy Gemperle. I’d like to thank a whole handful of people who’ve been so key in Edgewater and meant so much to me for providing such inspiration and creativity for decades and really serve as an extraordinary model for civic engagement. As I mentioned, June and Tina Travlos have been extraordinary, what they’ve done over the years. Marion Volini and her husband Camillo. Kathy Osterman, Kathy Gemperle, LeRoy Blommaert, LeRoy, there’s so many others, Kathy Lawkin, has provided an example of a visionary as well. Mary Ann Smith, you know, tremendous visionary, there are just so many leaders that I just want to say thank you for the enduring example. There’s nothing like Edgewater.

21:12 DN: And I’m going to stop the interview on that note.