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North Shore Baptist vs. The NFL

I live across the street from the North Shore Baptist Church, a venerable community institution that's been around for more than a century. I'm pals with the pastor. I like having the church in the neighborhood - it's called Lakewood-Balmoral - because it's a stately, tasteful building that houses many social programs in addition to its religious mission.

Aside from Sunday morning, it also frees up a lot of on-street parking for the residents. North Shore Baptist is in the midst of some major renovations and improvements to its facility. And this is where the NFL draft, complete with the conditions it has imposed on our city, intersects with my neighborhood. Let me explain.

A couple of weeks ago, all traffic on our block was re-routed as flatbed trucks and a large crane moved into place to lift some rather substantial air conditioning units onto the roof of the church. The building could not be accessed from the alley because of power and phone lines. It had to be done from the street.

I watched the precise and safe technique unfold as the units were lifted to the roof. The trucks had pulled up around 9 a.m. and were gone by noon.

In the course of my conversation with my friend, the pastor, he said that the church had to pay "thousands" to block off the street. He wouldn't tell me the exact amount. However, in a subsequent phone call to the 48th Ward office, Alderman Harry Osterman's chief of staff Dan Luna said the figure was $2,750.

You can see where this is going if you have been following the hoopla surrounding the NFL bringing its draft back to Chicago for the first time since 1964. Only a masochist would be driving a car around the Loop this weekend, with multiple blocked-off streets surrounding the Auditorium Theatre and so-called Draft Town in nearby Grant Park. In addition, there are other downtown streets being torn up which have nothing to do with the NFL visitors.

Last February we began to learn about the demands that the NFL placed on the city in order for it to "award" us with the draft. Street closures, police escorts for the college players, security, expanded broadband to accommodate the media, and free parking were among the conditions that this $9 billion industry said were necessary if the draft were to be held in Chicago.

Keep in mind that the draft had been held in New York for the past 50 years, the last nine at Radio City Music Hall. However, the folks there basically kicked out the NFL, saying that scheduling conflicts got in the way of the NFL using the space. The Rockettes and the New York Spring Spectacular are occupying the theater until May 7. Imagine the venerable chorus line kicking out the tight ends, tackles and running backs. But it happened. Apparently New York didn't feel that the event is quite as attractive as Choose Chicago deemed it to be.

And what is the NFL paying the city for closing off the streets? Absolutely nothing. It used to be that way for faith-based and not-for-profit organizations. However, the city council enacted an ordinance a few years ago - Luna said it was in late 2011 or early 2012 - that rescinded that perk.

Of course, the rationale is that football-crazed loonies from Buffalo or Kansas City are flocking to Chicago this weekend, staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, and - if they have any intelligence - riding the CTA. Once Sunday evening arrives, they'll depart. Draft Town will be dismantled. The Joffrey Ballet, which had been dispossessed from the Auditorium Theatre, will be able to move back in. The semis with all the communications and media paraphernalia will drive away as the streets open again to the public.

And North Shore Baptist? It will continue to offer Sunday services in four languages. Parents still will drop off their kids at the preschool housed in the building. The homeless will continue to be fed. Young people from many cultures will continue to meet. Next election day, I'll walk across the street to vote.

I'd much rather have that $2,750 go to those kinds of programs than into the city coffers - regardless of how sparse they may be - when the NFL dictates to the City of Chicago the conditions we need to meet to host their event from which the league and ESPN make millions.

I guess I should be thankful I don't live across the street from Grant Park.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Chuck Adler:

. . . but Roger, how many NFL Linebackers does the Northshore Baptist Church ("NSBC") give us, and if it weren't for the NFL draft, how many ex-football players would NSBC have to shelter and feed?



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Posted on May 1, 2015


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