Illinois Public Media News
Some young radio producers are organizing for control of the Chicago area's only noncommercial Latino broadcast outlet.
They're upset about plans by the National Museum of Mexican Art to sell the building and license of WRTE-FM Chicago (90.5), a youth-run station known as Radio Arte that airs music and public affairs content in English and Spanish.
Transmitting at 73 watts from Little Village, Radio Arte reaches several other Latino neighborhoods of the city's Southwest Side and some nearby suburbs.
The station also trains hundreds of volunteers a year and puts dozens on the air each week. Some have formed a group to try to keep the station in their community's hands.
Many of these volunteers share a bond: They don't have papers to be living in the United States.
"Radio Arte helped me learn to fight back," said volunteer Adriana Velázquez, 20, who arrived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood from Mexico at age 11.
Velázquez graduated from Benito Juárez Community Academy in nearby Pilsen and dreamed of going to college. But her immigration status disqualified her from most financing.
"So I felt like all I had done all these years in high school - being a good student, a good member of the community - was not worth [anything] to people," she said Thursday.
Velázquez said her life changed in 2008, when she started working on a Radio Arte show, Salud: Healing Through the Arts. "That summer was when I started really talking about my status and sharing that with other students who were also going through my situation," she said.
"It was kind of a relief to feel [at] home somewhere, not feeling ashamed that I was undocumented," said Velázquez, now a music-performance student at Northeastern Illinois University.
Velázquez and the other volunteers want control of Radio Arte's name, license and transmitter. But they haven't won over museum officials.
President Carlos Tortolero said the volunteers were making too much of the museum's plans. "Radio, to a lot of funders, is old school," he said. "And we can still do radio classes without a radio station. A lot of people are streaming now online and podcasting."
Tortolero said selling the building and radio license would free up resources for projects in other media such as video and computer graphics.
The Radio Arte volunteers counter that terrestrial radio signals still reach much bigger audiences than web streaming and podcasting do. "That's especially true in immigrant and low-income communities," Velázquez said.
The license's value is not clear. Radio Arte staffers say the museum paid $12,000 for it in 1996.
Tortolero said the museum hasn't received any offers yet but adds he's talking with potential buyers, including DePaul University and California-based Radio Bilingüe. He's also met twice with Torey Malatia, chief of Chicago Public Media, the parent of WBEZ.
Interviewed Wednesday, Malatia said his organization would not have cash for the license at this point. But Chicago Public Media is preparing a proposal to "help with operations and costs," he said.
"We deeply respect Radio Arte's mission," Malatia said. "If we get involved, we would keep the tradition alive."
Malatia said Chicago Public Media would connect Radio Arte to WBEW-FM (89.5), a youth-oriented station known as Vocalo that transmits from Chesterton, Indiana. Vocalo Managing Director Silvia Rivera worked at Radio Arte for more than a decade, including three years as general manager.
If the Chicago Public Media proposal were accepted, Radio Arte likely would continue broadcasting student- and volunteer-run shows, while "primetime blocks would be simulcast" with Vocalo, according to Malatia.
"As this story gets out," Malatia added, "it puts pressure on DePaul and [Radio Bilingüe] to close the deal, and probably will pull some religious buyers into the mix."
The building, 1401 W. 18th St., houses Radio Arte's offices and studios as well as Yollocalli Arts Reach, another youth program of the museum. The wedge-shaped structure has two stories and a partly finished basement. Tortolero said the space totals about 11,000 square feet.
The museum had a real-estate appraiser look it over this month but Tortolero said his team has not set the asking price yet.
The building stands on the corner of Blue Island Avenue and 18th Street. The intersection, which includes a Mexican-themed plaza, is an anchor of Pilsen, a neighborhood whose Latino population has been shrinking.
The volunteers say they won't try to buy the building.
(Photo by Chip Mitchell/IPR)
The license of Chicago's only noncommercial Latino radio station is for sale.
The board of the National Museum of Mexican Art has decided to unload the broadcasting license of youth-run WRTE, 90.5 FM, better known as Radio Arte, according to museum President Carlos Tortolero. Tortolero said the museum also plans to sell an 11,000 square foot building in the city's Pilsen neighborhood that houses the station and another museum youth program, Yollocalli Arts Reach.
"The funding, especially in radio, is going south," Tortolero said. "We have a building that's costing us money. We tried to borrow some money to do some things and [banks] are saying, 'No, no. You can't.' The banks are looking at us and saying, 'Hey, you have to get rid of some of this stuff.'"
Tortolero is meeting with potential buyers of the license. Those include Chicago Public Media, the parent of WBEZ. The museum has also brought a real-estate appraiser through the building. Tortolero said the museum, which launched both youth programs in 1997, plans to continue them.
But his moves have sparked opposition from some current and former Radio Arte volunteers. They say they're forming a cooperative to try to buy the station.
"We want to keep the frequency, name, license and transmitter," said Martín Macías Jr., 22, who produces a weekly news show for the station.
Carle Foundation Hospital has begun construction on a building that will focus primarily on heart and vascular care.
The nine-story Carle Heart and Vascular Institute, located on the hospital's campus, will include eight catheterization labs and upgrades to technology. The facility will also house intensive care beds that are currently located in buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.
"We have a real need here to improve our facilities," Carle CEO James Leonard said. "We have fantastic technical capabilities. We have great people, but we're really out of space. The demand continues to increase for all cardiovascular care, both around heart attacks as well as strokes."
During a dedication ceremony Wednesday, the Institute's medical director, Matt Gibb, emphasized the center's role in treating health conditions that can worsen over time, such as a stroke, diabetes, or a heart attack.
"The tower will be a true environment for healing," Gibb said. "It will be a place where we can help patients prevent and beat heart disease, and also return to normal life following an event like a heart attack."
Hospital officials estimate the center will have a $100 million impact on the local economy, and create up to 150 jobs during the two years it takes to construct the building.
The $220 million project, which was approved by the state in 2010, will be financed with cash and the sale of bonds.
It is scheduled to be completed in 2013.
(Design courtesy of Carle Foundation Hospital)
The St. Louis restaurant company Panera says its experiment to open several "pay-what-you-want nonprofit restaurants" has been a huge success.
Customers at these special facilities order like normal, but the cashiers simply suggest payment amounts - what customers actually put into the donation box is up to them.
Panera founder and chairman Ronald Shaich says nearly 80 percent of customers pay the full prices or more.
"The singular thing we've learned is that humanity is fundamentally good," Shaich said. "People have essentially been doing the right thing. People get it, people respond to it, they don't abuse it. I think at first some people thought that they would abuse us."
All proceeds go toward a non-profit foundation as well as a job training program for youth.
Panera's first pay-what-you-want location was in opened in Clayton. The company has since opened two other facilities in Detroit and Portland, Oregon.
(Photo courtesy of TerryJohnston/Flickr)
A company that closed a plant in Coles County two years ago is coming back.
Houston-based NCI Building Systems, Inc. operated a plant in Mattoon for about 20 years until it was forced to close in 2009 because of downturns in the economy.
The company manufactures insulated wall systems for large commercial and industrial developments.
Angela Griffin, the president of Coles Together, said the closure left a dent in the community by eliminating about 45-to-50 jobs. She said many of those workers have been able to find new jobs within the last couple of years.
"There may still be some that are on unemployment, and hopefully they can reach back to those people and get them," Griffin said.
She said the company's return is about a $20 million investment in the community, which she estimates will initially lead to about 25 new jobs.
Mattoon beat out four other sites outside of Illinois to host the plant.
"We thought we had lost them for good," she said. "Their industry had taken a big hit, and they had vacant buildings in other states. We thought it was a slim chance that they would bring production back to Central Illinois. So, we were very pleased.
Four Illinois state employees whose work was split among agencies were overpaid by $77,000 the last two years, an audit released Thursday shows.
One employee working for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation got $36,151 more than specified. Another received and additional $25,662.
Auditor General William Holland's office examined seven cases where department employees did work for other agencies. In four of them, the employees wound up being paid too much. The audit did not indicate how many such" interagency agreements" the agency had.
In three cases, the other agency involved was the governor's budget office.
The case of the $36,000 overpayment happened under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. She couldn't immediately say whether money had been recovered.
The other overpayments occurred when payroll for the agency was being centralized and confusion over the new system might have played a role, she said.
Holland's report also found in several cases that the agency lacked documentation showing an employee did any work for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and other cases where there was no explanation of how payment among the participating agencies was determined.
In its response to the audit, the department said it will be more diligent in recognizing possible overpayments and adjusting pay in such cases. Officials said they would try to develop a way to determine how much each agency should pay.
The report also declared that the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation couldn't find $240,000 worth of equipment - mostly computers - the last two years.
The agency told Holland it didn't know whether the computers contained any confidential information.
Hofer said some computers were stolen during a break-in at an agency office, but she couldn't immediately say why that wasn't mentioned in the audit.
An old mansion in Champaign that was converted into the McKinley YMCA could soon become a mansion once again.
Local developer Leon Jeske has purchased the McKinley Y from the Champaign County YMCA for $450,000. He plans to restore the century-old building, and lease it out as a private residence. Jeske stepped in after earlier plans to sell the square-block site to Owens Funeral Home fell through.
Jeske said the building is in essentially good shape. He said much of its interior features are unchanged, despite decades of use by the YMCA.
"They put in some ceiling tiles --- like acoustical tiling, one foot square," Jeske said. "That's not original. But the woodwork is all intact, even where they added a partition or wall, they did not disturb the crown moldings, they just kind of went over them, cut around them. So everything's there."
Jeske said he hasn't yet decided what to do with the adjoining carriage house, or the additions built for the building's YMCA use, including an indoor swimming pool. But he said the additions have separate entrances and could be converted into apartments, and he said the site also has commercial potential.
"It's right across the street from Westside Park," Jeske explained. "I could see a small cafeteria-type restaurant that could serve coffee and cake, and maybe a glass of wine, with a lot of outdoor seating where you could overlook the park."
Jeske said a restaurant would require a zoning change, but he said the site is appropriate for that sort of use.
The facility will continue as the McKinley YMCA until the Champaign County Y's new facility in southwest Champaign is ready to open next year. CEO Mark Johnson said construction of the new facility is moving ahead on schedule, and until it's completed, they're leasing the McKinley "Y" back from Jeske on a month-to-month basis.
State Farm Insurance says it will close two-dozen field offices over the next year in three states, including one in Champaign on West Park Court that employs 20 people.
It is part of an effort to save the company $8 million over the next five years. State Farm did a year-long study leading up to the consolidation plan, and found it could save money by centralizing technology while remaining efficient.
State Farm spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said administrative staff will consolidate to Indianapolis, but she said most employees will not be affected.
"A lot of those 13 hundred employees are what we call mobile claim workers, and they will be staying in those communities," she said. "What that means is that they will maybe work out of their home, maybe work out of a car, maybe work out of an agent's office."
The Bloomington-based company says it hopes to retain all the affected employees.
In addition to the State Farm office in Champaign closing, Illinois branches affected by the consolidation are in Marion, Collinsville, Springfield, Peoria, Moline, Rockford, Elmhurst, Tinley Park, and Arlington Heights.
Offices in Michigan and Indiana will also close.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday that it's giving Amtrak $404 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest.
The money will go toward making upgrades along the Chicago-St. Louis corridor and to constructing new segments of 110 mph track between Chicago and Detroit.
Once completed, the two projects are expected to reduce travel times and improve safety.
The Chicago-to-Detroit enhancements are expected to shave 30 minutes off of passenger travel times between the two destinations, and the government claims the construction phase of the project will create 1,000 jobs.
The money was part of $2 billion originally earmarked for high-speed rail links between Tampa and Orlando, Florida.
But Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled the project earlier this year, making the money available to be used in other parts of the nation.
The Department of Transportation targeted rail projects in 15 states to receive the additional funds. 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak had all applied for the dollars.
The largest share of the money - nearly $800 million - will be used to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments of the heavily traveled Northeast corridor.
"The investments we're making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Advocates of high-speed rail are scheduled to go to the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on May 19th to lobby state officials to support enhanced passenger rail service in the state.
One of central Illinois' oldest and largest farmers' markets starts its new season Saturday morning, May 7th.
The Market-at-the-Square in downtown Urbana promises over 160 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to arts and crafts. Market director Lisa Bralts-Kelly says attendance averages about 7,000 visitors each week.
Not all produce is available at farmers markets in the month of May, and Market-at-the-Square is no exception. But Bralts-Kelly saod there are some things shoppers can always count on at this time of year.
"You'll have various lettuces, spinach, green onions, fresh-cut herbs that are OK in cool weather, all of those things," Bralts-Kelly said. "But then we have asparagus, which is really the star of the show. And the season for asparagus started a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have it at the Market this weekend. And then, as that starts to wane, the strawberries will start to come on."
One thing that will NOT be at Market-at-the-Square this year is pets and other animals.They're barred from the Market under a new policy. Bralts-Kelly said that they've come to realize that the busy outdoor market is not a good setting for pets.
"We just witnessed many interactions between, not just dogs and people, but also dogs and other dogs," she said. "And we did field a lot of complaints from patrons about animals --- whether it was for sanitation reasons, or crowding, noise, leashes. We've been compiling all this feedback for years, and we decided that this year was probably the time to do it."
Bralts-Kelly said pets are already banned at the Taste of Champaign-Urbana, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival --- making Market-at-the-Square the last big outdoor food event in the area to enact such a policy. Service animals will still be welcome, and community groups registered as "animal-related" can also have animals at their booths.
Urbana's Market-at-the-Square is a city-run event that runs Saturday mornings, now through November 5th, at Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana. It will be joined by another area farmer's market next month --- Champaign's North First Street will host its farmers market on Thursday afternoons, starting June 9th.
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