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Incoming Northalsted Business Alliance ED looks ahead
by Matt Simonette

Christopher Barrett Politan calls the first two weeks that he's been in his new position—executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance—"the Rainbow listening tour."

"I've been out talking and listening—hearing how people are working on the street, and asking what's working, and what are the business levers that could be pulled that could draw people?" he said.

Barrett Politan took over the position from Interim Director Kimberly Bares Oct. 13. A native of New York, he has extensive background in both investment- and nonprofit-consulting. The new job "seemed like a great cross-section of my acumen and my desire to work more directly with my community," he said. "My consulting work in New York had largely been focused in the LGBT community, and I worked with a whole treasure trove of local LGBT boards in New York City and some national folks."

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The first step in the weeks ahead is what Barrett Politan said amounted to a strategic planning exercise. "We're talking about what North Halsted Street can be and look like—and how it responds to a changing environment around it—come 2020. …I think it's going to be really great and provide the appropriate guideposts to measure success and invest our community more deeply in the success of Boystown."

The exercise was intended to encourage members to not measure "success" by their own bottom line, but overall investment and reinvestment in the neighborhood, as well as "making Boystown a conduit for the entirety of the queer spectrum of communities throughout Chicago," he said, adding that he'll approach the alliance's work from the vantage point of a concierge.

"It's about reinvesting folks who already use the street and [remembering that] Boystown is a beacon for both national and foreign travelers," Barrett Politan noted. "We have to consider how we provide a potpourri of opportunities for them to have fun, and to also drive commerce on the street. There is no dearth of fantastic ideas about how to achieve that. The board of the business alliance is filled with well-intentioned folks and bright business professionals, and leveraging their acumen becomes the important 'next step.' The strategic planning exercise will do that in a way that is meaningful."

North Halsted's safety issues have been in question for several years now, with numerous residents concerned about increases in street crime, while other constituencies in the community have maintained that such those residents are being alarmist. "We will have a six-month report on our own security, and have some data points on that," Barrett Politan said, adding that the alliance would place utmost priority on the cultural competency of Halsted security details.

He knows that he has a lot of work ahead, working with more than 80 neighborhood businesses.

"I just try to approach this from a place of abundance," he said. "Each business raises each other's game. Each one of them continues to thrive by feeling the nudges of other businesses in the neighborhood. …Hopefully, this is a real moment of refocusing and visioning that will be valuable."

According to Barrett Politan, the alliance is finalizing plans to move into new offices at Halsted and Cornelia.

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