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Talking with the head of the Chicago Loop Alliance
by Steven Chaitman

This article shared 4097 times since Wed Feb 22, 2012
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The Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) holds its annual meeting every February to, among other things, unveil new initiatives to continue improving the vitality of The Loop and its businesses, as well as draw more visitors downtown. The CLA spearheaded the Looptopia events in 2007 and 2008, for example.

For Ty Tabing, the CLA's openly gay executive director, the meeting celebrates the anniversary of his tenure. This year's meeting, held recently, marked eight for the Kansas native, who, in a way, became a Chicagoan by accident.

A post-college graduation road trip brought Tabing and two friends to Chicago. After catching a Brewers game in Milwaukee, the friends got in an accident and totaled their car. They were stuck in Chicago for a month, staying with Tabing's aunt and uncle in Barrington. They spent much of that time exploring the city and were soon hooked. All three live in Chicago today.

Prior to his current post, worked at City Hall for what was then the Department of Planning and Development. He handled a number of real-estate projects in the Loop until he was asked to become executive director of the Greater State Street Council due, in part, to his connection with the city. He later helped merge that organization with the Central Michigan Avenue Association to form the CLA.

Tabing spoke with Windy City Times about his various initiatives to make the Loop more appealing, how he sees downtown Chicago and his plans to move up to the North Side.

Windy City Times: When you first visited, what were your initial observations of the city?

Ty Tabing: I loved the architecture, the buildings, the pace, the energy and the diversity of people. There's not a whole lot of diversity in Wichita, Kan.

WCT: The Loop is seen through so many eyes every day; how do you see the Loop?

Ty Tabing: I see the Loop as a series of inflows and outflows. There are 300,000 people who come into The Loop every day to come to work. But we also have 30,000 residents who live in the Loop, 65,000 college students that attend school in the Loop and we have one of the more vibrant theatre districts in downtown Chicago vis-à-vis the rest of the country.

I live down here as well. From one perspective it's great to have lots of tourists coming down here; from a pure resident perspective I'm less than enamored, but it is what it is. I actually just put my condo on the market yesterday.

I've lived down here for four years and I'm basically a guy from Kansas and grew up with a backyard and green space in my life, so even though I love the simplicity that comes from living three blocks from where you work, on weekends I find reason to get out of the neighborhood and go up to Andersonville or Boystown or Wicker Park or wherever else weekend fun might take me.

WCT: Do you have a specific idea of where you want to move?

Ty Tabing: I really like Andersonville. I find myself going up there a lot to meet friends so I could really see myself living in that neighborhood.

WCT: What are you personally most proud of in your time as executive director of the CLA?

Ty Tabing: Our Pop-Up Art Program, which is bringing art to vacant storefronts, is probably the program I'm most proud of. It was a very opportunistic response to the recession and in part the difficult times in the retail market. We basically turned vacant storefronts into galleries, some of which you can walk into. Where we didn't have access to interior spaces we really activated storefront windows, which, in the process, enhances the visitor experience to the Loop but, at the same time, really improves the curb appeal of these spaces for rent.

WCT: One of the big initiatives that you launched at the annual meeting was Art Loop 2012. Tell me about that.

Ty Tabing: There are two things we announced. One was Phase II of the LED lights and music display, Lightscape, which is on State Street. We're trying to enhance the destination appeal of State Street.

[The second] is our art installation that's going on this summer called Color Jam. It's by internationally famous artist Jessica Stockholder, who will literally drench an intersection in color. So the sidewalks and the streets will be painted and the colors will extend up the sides of the four buildings that are participating, so it should be a really immersive experience to visit this intersection.

WCT: Has being openly gay had any kind of influence or impact on your job at all? Why or why not?

Ty Tabing: It's had no impact, for the most part. City Hall is a great place to work as an openly gay man. I've kind of been out forever in my professional life. It's one of those things that never comes up—unless someone tries to fix me up. I'm sort of a longtime suffering single. Last night at the annual meeting a couple of members came up to me and said they had someone they wanted me to meet. I don't know if that was just the wine talking or what, but I'll see where that goes.

WCT: Have you spearheaded any LGBT-related efforts in the Loop?

Ty Tabing: For Looptopia there was a Miss Looptopia drag contest, which was hysterical, actually. The thing about an organization like ours is we have to be everything to everybody, and that includes suburban families and young professionals and everything else … With Lightscape, we're working on bringing show tunes to State Street, so we'll see how that works out. There are different ways to set up Lightscape and so we're brainstorming some fun things that have included karaoke and show tunes and stuff like that, so that seems like a great opportunity for a Sidetrack Sunday type of thing, but on State Street.

WCT: Would you still describe the business in the Loop as LGBT-friendly or the atmosphere as open to all walks of life?

Ty Tabing: Yeah; about a week or so ago I saw these two women holding hands walking down Wabash and I had a little bit of an "a-ha" moment, like, "Wow, it's cool to see that down here," because I don't recall seeing that too frequently. It was a little bit of a sign to me that there is more acceptance city-wide instead of just having a rather small area in which it's okay to hold the hand of your partner or whatever the case may be. So that was nice to see.

This article shared 4097 times since Wed Feb 22, 2012
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