Entrance interview: Rahm Emanuel
The incoming mayor shares his plans to improve summer music festivals, fight food deserts and more.
Yeah. So we can continue to do that. But that’s not an either-or choice.
Mayor Daley has taken to the idea of sponsorships. How do you feel about corporately sponsored culture?
If that helps us attract shows we wouldn’t otherwise be able to, then sure. Again, I want to create a spirit or a sense that Chicago is a sophisticated city culturally and is, arts and culture-wise, very friendly. I love the Art Institute, I love the Lyric Opera. But Louder than a Bomb is in that lake. What I saw at Double Door the other night? It’s in that lake. We are the city that generates, I think, a billion dollars of economic activity just on music alone*. Outside New York and L.A., Chicago is the destination for music. We have a rich history. You don’t have the blues without Chicago. We’re far superior to Memphis or St. Louis, which have their venues on that same railroad track coming north. One of the places I went to on my 50 Wards in 50 Hours tour was a hardware store in Bronzeville [the former Sunset Café] that’s a historic landmark because that’s where all the great blues and jazz musicians played. It’s a hardware store! It’s unbelievable. We have great historic landmarks north and south that represent our rich history in the music scene.
[* He’s right: According to a 2007 Economic Impact Study by the Chicago Music Commission, “Overall employment in all music sub-industries in the Windy City is 53,000, in businesses that generate payrolls totaling over $1 billion.”]
And you’re of the opinion that the city is not exploiting that history as much as it should?
I don’t really like the word exploited.
Okay, let’s not say exploited then. The city’s not taking advantage?
Exactly. Our record labels—when you think about the great history of blues and rock & roll and jazz—
Yes! These are great untapped resources.
Uptown has a great untapped resource: the Uptown Theatre. You’ve talked about reviving that as part of a larger-scale plan for that neighborhood as a live-music destination. Jerry Mickelson, cofounder of Jam Productions, which bought the theater in 2008 for $3.23 million, has said he doesn’t have the estimated $70 million needed to get the theater into operational shape.
All I know is that they’re pretty excited right now and they’re working on stuff.*
[* “It’s a very complex financing puzzle that we are piecing together,” Mickelson says, adding he has never talked to Emanuel about the fate of the Uptown Theatre. “It’s a lot of different funding: city, state, federal government, tax credits, charitable donations. You’re dealing with a building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, landmarked inside and out. It’s not easy to raise $70 million. It takes time, but we are excited that we feel it’s starting to come together.”]
So it’s happening.
They’re going to come up with plans and we’ll figure out—we’ll go get to work and we’ll figure out how to do it.
What can the city do to help?
You’re jumping ahead, dude. How’s that?
Fair enough. You’re also an advocate for food trucks, you’ve said, as a way to combat the food desert problem. Do you realistically envision a gourmet food truck going down to Englewood?
You’re missing a couple things. First, I don’t want to be the only city without food trucks. So I want the restaurants to work with these guys to come up with a compromise. That’s it. Number two: My first priority is dealing with the food desert issue. There are two ways I want to come at that. I’m going to convene a mayor’s conference with all the major and minor grocers about their plans for the next four years in the city of Chicago. I want them to report on what they’re doing. In addition, we have the most antiquated laws and ordinances as it relates to urban agriculture, in getting areas converted for year-round growth of fresh fruits and vegetables, employment opportunities, and then selling food from that place. When I announced this, the food trucks somehow got lumped in. I consider that a distinct and separate issue.