DevMoore's Iron Will: Comply or Else

DevCorp is flexing its muscle lately. Merchants are being pressured by the alderman's office. It's the double fist of DevMoore imposing its will on the merchants of Rogers Park. It's all under the aegis of the "Clark/Morse/Glenwood
Special Service Area #24."

La Tienda del Dolar, the little dollar store at N. Greenview and W. Morse, is gone. But the building it was in is still there. A brand new steel and glass facade has been put in. It looks nice, but it hides a vacant space. It also hides the fact that DevCorp muscled the building's owner to put in the new facade. There is no tenant lined up for the space, according to a DevCorp employee who spoke to RPB recently.

"We made him fix it up," DevCorp Man said.
"You made him fix it up? What if he didn't fix it up?" RPB asked. Raised eyebrows from DevCorp Man.
"Or else?" RPB pushed.
"Or else." DevCorp man said. He didn't elaborate on what "or else" means.

RPB has spoken with merchants along the Morse Avenue corridor. A number of them have told RPB that Michael Land of Alderman Joe Moore's office, and Rene Camargo of DevCorp North, are pressuring merchants to remove security gratings from their windows, spend money on new signage, and are even going so far as to meddle in the interior decor of the merchants' stores. Together, Land and Camargo are the vanguard of what RPB calls "DevMoore."

Most of the "suggested" changes have nothing to do with safety or codes, but seem instead to be purely aesthetic. Apparently, Joe Moore and DevCorp are muscling their way into the interior design industry. Merchants are pissed off, frightened, and probably sorry that they put those Joe Moore campaign signs in their windows. The windows, that is, that DevMoore is now telling them to replace at no small price tag. It's all part of the "facade improvement program." It's a nice sounding title isn't it? But the real facade is the happy face put on by DevMoore to hide the iron boot waiting to drop on those who don't play along.

Merchants are being told sign documents, which are being distributed by Michael Land of Alderman Moore's office. The documents, which amount to contracts, impose some bizarre demands on merchants. The language is not even very good, with portions being vague or strangely noncommittal. For example, the phrase "I agree to consider" (doing X, Y, Z) is ridiculous. That statement translates to "I promise I'll think about it."

But the truly scary part of all this is the meddlesome aspect of it. Not just the intimidation, but what the merchants are being intimidated into doing. We can all agree that the city has a right to regulate signs for aesthetic value. But DevMoore is telling merchants how to paint their interior walls, reposition things such as merchandising shelves and coolers, and so on. As stated earlier, these are not changes that are needed to bring the merchant into compliance with codes. They seem to be purely aesthetic. DevMoore is imposing it's sense of interior decor on merchants, but there would not seem to be any law supporting such demands.

From DevCorp North's web site, a description of the program (emphasis mine):

"In an effort to assist business owners within Rogers Park's Special Service Areas (SSA). A Business Improvement Program (BIP) has been created to offer financial assistance to business owners looking to improve their facade...."

"The program provides financial and technical assistance to the owners and tenants of buildings that have street level commercial retail space within the published SSA boundaries. Matching grants of up to $5,000 are provided in recognition of the significant impact storefront improvements have on the appearance and marketing of Rogers Park’s commercial areas. Some examples of projects that would be considered eligible under the program are removal of exterior metal gates, replacement of old windows, installation of signage and/or awnings, and installation of security measures (i.e., exterior surveillance cameras and motion-detector lights). Interested businesses and building owners must submit an application and receive an approval letter from the SSA Commission to proceed. The applicant receives a rebate after his/her project is complete, all costs related to the project have been paid and adequate documentation has been submitted to DevCorp North."

There seem to be several problems with the above description on DevCorp North's web site.

First, it makes the program sound completely voluntary for "business owners looking to improve their facade." The business owners RPB spoke to were not "looking to" change their facade. The decision is being imposed on them by DevMoore.

Second, the "matching grants of up to $5,000." This is tax money, yours and mine, being funneled through the alderman's office and DevCorp's books. The amount of $5,000 is not enough to cover the merchant's total costs of "suggested" changes. The justification is that this money will help improve the appearance of Rogers Park. (Will DevMoore also grant up to $5,000 to every gangster who hangs out on Morse Avenue to get out of the neighborhood?)

Third, it says that "Interested businesses and building owners must submit an application." Again, many of the affected businesses are not interested. They are intimidated. Saying that they must submit an application, again, makes it sound voluntary. To speak with local merchants, it is hardly always voluntary.

Clark/Morse/Glenwood SSA special meeting scheduled
Notice: The Clark/Morse/Glenwood SSA#24 will hold a special meeting:
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 at 8:30 a.m.
DevCorp North
1557 West Howard Street



  1. Haven't had access to the local online community for some time, so I was interested to see this posting when I got online today.

    While I understand your points, is there not some potentially positive aspect to this? Setting aside the arguable issue of intimidation for the moment, might there be retailers or building owners who would enthusiastically welcome this? A matching grant might, for example, be of great interest to a retailer who can commit $5K to improvements, but really needs $10K to get the job done right.

    I haven't spoken to anyone from either side of this, but I can sure see the potential for positive impact on what has historically been a very ugly street.

    Just my 2 cents.


  2. Welcome back, RP.
    Sure, some merchants are okay with it. But should the ones who aren't be intimidated into compliance? There is a house in Rogers Park that is painted with leopard spots. Should they be forced to repaint their house? If it doesn't violate code, leave them alone. That's the case with the merchants. What business is it of DevCorp if a merchant's interior wall colors don't suit DevCorp's aesthetic taste? And remember, not all merchants are able to shell out $5,000, even if there are matching funds. It's still a big expense, cash out of hand. If I came to you and said you must add a room to your home, and it would cost $30,000 but I'll put in $15,000, you would still be spending $15,000. If you ain't got it, you ain't got it, no matter what my "matching funds" are.

  3. Well, that certainly seems to be the pivotal issue: whether they are actually intimidating people.

    It's kind of a tough call. We've all been pressuring the alderman's office to clean up Morse, deliver a streetscape plan that is right for a commercial district and help attract quality retailers to our community.

    I'll hope (for now) that the intimation issue is more of a misunderstanding, since the alderman's office can't genuinely force retailers to jump through these particular hoops.

    I'll also hope this ultimately helps responsible retailers and owners to clean up some of the properties that need cleaning up.

  4. Will DevCorp pay the owners owners business insurance premiums once they take the security grates off?
    I would think that removing a security grate from a storefront would cause premiums to rise. True?
    Talk about a move designed to slow business growth!

  5. Don:
    The security grates are a real sore issue with merchants. Oddly, DevCorp says they can be inside the windows, but not outside. Some merchants need them more than others. Drycleaners and gyros shops, for example, need them far less than a merchant who sells cigarettes and household goods. Of course, this does not address the reason why the security grates are needed: The constant threat of burglary and vandalism. Cosmetic fixes won't make that problem go away.

  6. I have heard through the grapevine, that the whole building is in such disrepair the owner intends to sell and have it demolished in a few years. So immediate store front improvements would be costly and for naught.

    Dev Corp has long been advertising their store front assistance plan, which assist with the costs of remodeling exteriors for shop keepers who are interested in updates. I imagine that these folks were not and were strong armed out of their resistance.

    If the above hearsay is correct, one might understand their resistance to change when they may well be forced to move or close shop anyway.

    However the new facade is vastly more pleasing to the eye, unlike the rest of the building.

  7. Do you happen to have a copy of the documents that the merchants are being asked to sign? You could scan them and put them up where folks could see them, making sure you black out identifying info if any is on the document.

  8. Kheris: Yes, I took a very clear photograph of the document. I was allowed to take the photo on the condition that I use it only for my reference. Understand: Each document is slightly customized to a specific merchant. If I published the photo of the document, it may be possible to identify the merchant even with names and initials removed.


Thanks for commenting! Keep it classy.