Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Neighborhood Tourism: Pilsen Main Street Tour

Attracting tourists is one of the oldest money-making schemes in the world, but urban neighborhoods haven't often invested the resources to attract visitors and then roll out the red carpet when they arrive. But that's changing.

"The time has come for us to toot our own horn, to tell people that we have a lot to offer," said The Resurrection Project's Álvaro Obregón at a panel discussion yesterday following a bus tour of his Pilsen neighborhood. He and about 20 participants from the tour had just finished a fine lunch at Fogata Village restaurant, 1820 S. Ashland. Obregón thinks there is plenty more opportunity for visitors to spend money at restaurants, bakeries and other stores while they are visiting Pilsen, where he has lived since he was one year old.

The tour was part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street Conference in Chicago. It was hosted by Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, which is promoting the tax benefits of rehabilitating residential and commercial structures within the 4,000-building Pilsen historic district. Eighteenth Street's Kristy Menas and Hector Saldaña did a nice job, during the tour, of interweaving historic information about 120-year-old houses and vaulted sidewalks with more-current stories about new businesses going in (an Italian restaurant at Thalia Hall) and planned promotions like the Mole de Mayo cookoff on May 2, 2009.

More tours are on the way. Six Chicago neighborhoods including Pilsen are participating in the Burnham Plan Centennial's upcoming Bold Plans, Big Dreams Community Showcase. Community leaders are working with tour and history experts to prepare bus and walking tours that will kick off on May 16 and continue through the summer. The tours will cover South Chicago, Quad Communities (Bronzeville), Pilsen, Albany Park, Auburn Gresham and the Indian business strip in West Ridge. Stay tuned for details.

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