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Ford dealership finally gets zoning approval after getting caught up in demand for more minority dealerships
A $57 million Ford dealership on Chicago’s North Side—stalled amid demands for more Hispanic dealerships–finally got the green light from the City Council’s Zoning Committee Wednesday.
The zoning change paves the way for Michigan-based Fox Motors to build a 102,000 sq.ft. dealership near Elston and Fullerton on a 7.45-acre site along the Chicago River formerly owned by Thybony Paint. The two-year project is expected to create up to 240 construction jobs, 135 full-time jobs at an average annual salary of $65,000 and generate millions in new tax revenue.
Developments with numbers like those don’t normally need a push from the mayor’s office, but that’s precisely what happened to Fox Motors.
The project has been held up for months as the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus and its chairman, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who also chairs the Zoning Committee, privately questioned why Ford has no Hispanic-owned dealerships in the Chicago area.
Solis was further accused of advocating for a specific Hispanic businessman who’s eager to get into the car business and also happens to be a reliable campaign contributor.
The Chicago-style pressure tactics forced Fox Motors to extend a purchase option on the North Side property that was due to expire Aug. 1 and set an absolute deadline of Oct. 1 for final City Council approval.
The brick was lifted after Ford made overtures to Solis donor Jose Diaz and only after aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel pressured the alderman to call for a vote.
On Wednesday, Ford gave a presentation highlighting its efforts to recruit and encourage minority ownership, even after eliminating 1,100 dealerships in recent years to weed out the unprofitable ones.
Solis acknowledged that Diaz name was raised by other Hispanic aldermen during private meetings on the project. But, he categorically denied holding up the $57 million project in a bare-knuckles push for Diaz.
Solis said he was simply demanding that Ford—which now has 3,270 dealerships, 163 of them owned by minorities—bolster that five percent share.
“They should represent and be loyal to the market that’s buying their cars and try to figure out a way to get more representation in their dealerships to reflect that,” Solis said, noting that 23 percent of new car buyers are minorities.
Why has the entire episode been portrayed as, yet another heavy-handed example of a Chicago politician demanding a piece of the pie?
“Right now, any politician—municipal, county, state–if you’re an elected official, you’re probably next to a car salesman in terms of reputation,” Solis said.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes the project, was just happy to see the $57 million investment salvaged.
Asked whether Solis was a bit heavy-handed in his approach, Waguespack said, “Well, uh, my initial thoughts were yes that it was. But, I don’t have the same issues…I guess I was just surprised at the beginning that it happened that way.”
Emanuel was quick to claim credit for breaking a political stalemate that, he hinted strongly, sent the wrong signal to businesses considering expanding in or relocating to Chicago.
“I am committed to fostering economic opportunity and job creation in our neighborhoods,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a statement.
“I am pleased that this important project passed the Zoning Committee and I will work to ensure that every viable project has a smooth path to fruition in this city.”