Blackhawks, UC Spark Revitalization of West Side

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New resturants,condos and people flock to once desolate neighborhood.

    West Madison Avenue has come a long way since George Lemperis felt compelled to carry a gun in his pocket.

    "What has happened to this neighborhood is beyond belief," said Lemperis, who has owned the Palace Grill since the late 1970s. "This was skid row Chicago," he said.

    But Lemperis and others say things started to turn around about two years after the United Center opened its doors in 1994. The Democratic National Convention came to Chicago in '96, and the arena was the Bulls' home during their second run of three consecutive championships, hosting the 1996, 1997, and 1998 NBA Finals.

    In the wake of all that activity is new condo developments and often-full bars and restaurants.

    For those business owners, the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run is like the icing on the cake.

    "It's like a Little Wrigleyville here. They've got the places after the games [and] the people come by and hang out at these places. It's really cool," said Lemperis.

    Ald. Walter Burnett represents one side of the area near the United Center and said he remembers when prostitution plagued the area. And he said he believes the Blackhawks' ongoing success is helping fuel the progression of the neighborhood.

    "A couple of these games is equivalent to, like, two or three months of income for some of the businesses," he said.