Marktown residents oppose demolition scheduled for next month
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com April 29, 2014 9:20PM
A former Marktown office and apartment building is one of 10 set to be demolished on May 5. BP, which purchased the properties from George Michels, said it plans to turn the properties into green space. | Christin Nance Lazerus/Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 1, 2014 6:39AM
EAST CHICAGO — Several Marktown buildings are scheduled to be bulldozed into history on May 5, but residents are trying to fight the planned demolition.
The 10 properties — which are tagged with blue numbers — were sold to BP by the family who owns George Michels Bar, located at the corner of Riley and Dickey roads, but the bar will remain standing. It’s part of BP’s efforts in recent years to buy up property adjacent to the refinery to convert into green space and, possibly, a parking lot.
Residents are worried by the decision to tear down buildings that have stood since 1917, and some wonder what’s next.
“They can’t make people leave,” said Marktown resident and precinct commiteewoman Kim Rodriguez. “BP is waiting for the last homeowner to sell. How dare they try to take it away from us? And it angers me they can do what they want to people.”
The buildings include the former Marktown hotel and boarding house on Dickey Road, and houses on Riley Road, Oak Street, Liberty Street, Grove Street and Spring Street.
Community activists will seek to stay the demolition for 90 days in court, but even if they can’t, the heart of the community is still whole, Rodriguez said.
“I would love to stop them from tearing down these buildings,” Rodriguez said. “But even if we can’t save them, the community can still move forward.’
In 1917, the neighborhood was designed as a model industrial community to house workers at Mark Manufacturing Co. and other local companies. But, due to financial constraints tied to World War I, only four of the 30 planned sections were built. One of its well known quirks is residents park on the sidewalks and walk in the streets.
About 550 residents still live in the English cottage-style houses, duplexes and apartments planned on narrow streets, but the neighborhood has become rundown. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn’t prevent demolitions.
Marktown looks out of place with it surroundings, but it is well hidden since it is surrounded by BP, U.S. Steel’s East Chicago Tin plant, and ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor.
Rodriguez and neighbor Juan Laureano said BP has a real estate broker inquiring if neighbors want to sell, typically for around $30,000.
“I love it here. It’s very peaceful and we always have parking. And you don’t really hear the traffic nearby,” Laureano said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said the properties were acquired as part of long-standing plans to increase green space around the refinery. He said future demolitions are yet to be determined, but any interested sellers are encouraged to contact the refinery.
Laureano’s wife, Esther, is skeptical.
“If something is happening, let us know,” she said. “Let us make our own decisions in our own lives. What is the underlying reason? Is it of value or is there a liability? Is this area not worth saving?”
Rodriguez said a neighborhood redevelopment plan was created in 2008, but city officials are mum as to why it was never implemented.
“I’m trying my best to save our community,” she said. “I’ve never lived anywhere else. I don’t care if there’s just 15 of us left. I’ll fight for all of the necessary things that everyone else in East Chicago gets, like park funding.”
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland did not respond to several requests for comment, but in the past, he hasn’t indicated his support to either the residents or the company. Last year, he said that the city had no plans to move people out of Marktown.
Rodriguez said she supported the mayor in the election, but the process has left her frustrated.
“People who I grew up with here don’t want to go. It’s affordable,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always lived here so I can’t imagine walking out the door for the last time.”