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Harold Washington Cultural Center Facing "Hostile Takeover"

By Chuck Sudo in News on Nov 1, 2010 9:00PM

2010_11_1_harold.jpg City Colleges of Chicago received approval today to use $1.8 million in tax increment financing to take over the financially beleaguered Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville. The center, built on the site of the former Regal Theater, has long been plagued with cost overruns and accusations of patronage, nepotism, mismanagement and possible violations of federal tax law.

Former 3rd Ward Alderman Dorothy Tillman, whose daughter heads the non-profit that manages the center, called the use of TIF funds by CCC to take over the center illegal, saying it was taken from the Bronzeville TIF District "under cloak of darkness" (ironic in that Tillman thought nothing about the $9 million in taxpayer funds that went into the construction of the center when she was Alderman). Jimalita Tillman, Executive Director of Tobacco Road, said that all the City Colleges already have performance venues that are under-ultilized and under-staffed.

The Center has had a long and troubled history from its inception. Originally intended to be called the Lou Rawls Cultural Center, the late Bronzeville singer disassociated himself from the project in 2002 after cost overruns during construction and differences with Dorothy Tillman. Current and former members of Tobacco Road include Dorothy Tillman's brother, Benjami; singer and friend of Dorothy Tillman Otis Clay ; Dorothy Tillman's former chief of staff Robin Brown; and Terrence Bell, a contributor to Dorothy Tillman's campaigns.

The mismanagement of the center was also the subject of a Polk Award-winning investigation by the weekly Hyde Park Herald/Lakefront Outlook.