The Ravenswood Community Council, the non-profit social services group that underwent intense city scrutiny and lost funding as a result, recently conducted a survey to help understand how 100 area businesses are working with Special Service Area 31, a designated portion of the Greater Ravenswood community in which businesses along designated streetss are levied an additional tax that goes toward business district improvement.
“The idea behind the survey, first and foremost, was to see exactly how the businesses were benefitting from the SSA,” said Charles Daas, the newly appointed executive director of the Ravenswood Community Council.
Last November, Center Square Journal reported that the City of Chicago had found RCC “not qualified” for city grant funding and had not been completing major required milestones for city contracts. As a result, RCC was stripped of a majority of its city funding. Soon after losing it’s funding the Council’s executive director resigned. Daas took the executive director position in summer 2012.
Before the RCC took over as the the provider agency for SSA 31, it was overseen by the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, which was stripped of most of its city funding and eventually dissolved in 2010 after a separate investigation by Center Square Journal. Daas was introduced as executive director in April 2012 many members of the new board of directors are new as well.
The businesses surveyed represented a wide variety of industries, including tech companies, retail and food service, Daas said.
One of the main takeaways from the survey, Daas said, was that businesses are receiving much support from area residents.
“One of the most interesting things we learned was that despite the downtrend in the economy, the local businesses still received a lot of support from local residents,” Daas said. “The retail businesses and restaurants especially talked about that relationship with the broader Greater Ravenswood neighborhood.”
One concern of business owners was the lack of foot traffic in certain parts of the SSA. That lack of traffic may contribute to a domino effect that leads to more and more businesses suffering.
“In certain sections of the neighborhood, Clark Street and parts of Montrose Avenue, they’d really like to drive more foot traffic to those areas. A number of the businesses on Clark Street have been there for less than a year,” Daas said. “They need more businesses on Montrose Avenue to drive traffic in.”
Another area of concern that RCC found with the survey was that there are certain sections of the community more commercial vacancy than others.
“Unless those spaces are filled, and filled with enterprises or retail that is actually driving traffic to those areas, I think it’s going to be really difficult to generate the foot traffic that some of these folks are looking for,” Daas said.
Overall though, the survey proved to be fruitful and informative for the RCC and they plan to conduct more surveys in the future to better understand the needs of area businesses.
“The most important thing which it’s helping us do is…to deliver services or support in a different way,” Daas said.