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UPTOWN CHICAGO COMMISSION

June 2005 UCC e-Newsletter

UCC has moved. We now share office space with the Edgewater Community Council at 6044 N. Broadway. Ongoing federal and city budget cuts have forced both organizations to do more with less. We are working together and learning from one another. Many thanks for the support, ECC; you are a great neighbor!

Wilson Yard Speculations

 

The Wilson Yard Redevelopment, as currently envisioned, is a VERY dense and complex project. And it is time to ask if it's possible to build the “all things to all people” development for which the City's Department of Planning and Alderman Shiller continue to advocate.

Master Developer Peter Holsten is an experienced low-income housing developer, and although some of his redevelopments - such as The Bryn Mawr and Belle Shore SROs in Edgewater - include ground floor commercial space (including a Mia Francesca restaurant), these were secondary considerations to refurbishing existing affordable housing.

Wilson Yard's footprint will primarily be newly-constructed big box retail and entertainment. Were the Wilson Yard being developed commercially, by an experienced commercial developer, this project would be well underway. But the housing components are proving as problematic now, as they were controversial earlier. Both senior housing developers which signed on to the project have retreated -- first Catholic Charities, and then Rest Haven (developer of Buena Park's Ruth Shriman Home).

And Peter Holsten, who is to develop the low-income family housing at Wilson Yard and whose organization is very experienced at obtaining funding from IDHA (Illinois Housing Development Authority), came away from his first submission without subsidies. (In a related-matter, developer Ansonia Properties has also been unsuccessful in obtaining IHDA funding for a low-income senior rehab project at Clarendon and Lakeside. See “Development News” in this newsletter.)

Now that there isn't a not-for-profit, low-income senior housing developer signed onto the Wilson Yard project, master developer Holsten has assumed this responsibility. And paradoxically, he needs to return to the same, seemingly-dry, IDHA well for an infusion of start-up funds.

The UCC has long held that Wilson Yard, Uptown's largest undeveloped parcel of land, should be redeveloped as a vibrant, commercial district that would serve all of Uptown's residents. Perhaps the complicated, subsidized housing components – and the passage of time – will combine to strip away the already overrepresented low-income housing component, and result in a commercially-viable asset to the community. Residents who travel far to find jobs, as well as goods and services, would be appreciative.

Development Updates

 

Uptown Theatre update

Due to loose terra cotta on the exterior of the building, the City has arranged to have deteriorated terra cotta either repaired in-place or removed and stored off-site --- until such time as full rehabilitation is undertaken. Once this triage is complete, the graffiti will be removed (again). The UCC is considering launching a Crimestoppers- style reward system to discourage further vandalism. Anyone interested in helping create such a program should contact our office at (773) 338-7141. Your assistance would be appreciated.

And speaking of the Theatre, there are some sustained rumors that an acceptable (to the City), experienced, interested party (which is international in scope) may have been found for complete redevelopment of Uptown's crown jewel. They have made repeated visits to the facility. Keep your fingers crossed.

A book is scheduled to be published late this fall by David Balaban. His family developed and operated the Uptown Theatre, Riviera Theatre and Lakeside Theatres in Uptown, as well as the Chicago Theatre and many others in the Balaban & Katz chain. We hope to arrange a book-signing event at Uptown's Borders.

TIF development at Lawrence & Broadway?

Alderman Smith has long envisioned a large development at the northeast corner of Broadway and Lawrence. TIF funding and powers of land assembly would be involved. The parcels to be acquired extend between Broadway and the L tracks, from Lawrence north to Sun Center.

This potential project has been described in broad terms over the years. Its basic elements are: commercial space at street level; parking structures along the L tracks; condos above; and possibly a connection to the CTA station.

An interested developer who has been working closely with the City has begun approaching local community groups to share initial concepts. Once a meeting is scheduled with UCC's zoning committee, we will extend invitations through the block club presidents.

Closure of Columbus-Maryville?

An international order of nuns owns the Columbus-Maryville/DCFS children's emergency shelter at the corner of Montrose and Clarendon. There is a persistent rumor (which DCFS personnel have also been hearing) that the nuns plan to sell the facility -- to a residential developer. We attempted to contact Columbus-Maryville's executive director, but he has been reassigned. The acting, interim replacement did not return our calls.

SSA coming to Uptown

The objective of an SSA (Special Service Area) is to provide enhanced services and programs to encourage or maintain stability within a localized area. This is a City program which permits contiguous areas to fund common activities (such as security services, litter collection by hand, sidewalk washing, snowplowing, plantings, holiday decorations, area marketing, advertising assistance, etc.) through a localized property tax levy. In essence, all property owners within the SSA district pay a little more property tax, and those funds are managed locally (in this case through the Chamber of Commerce/UPCORP.).

The proposed, contiguous areas represent all of Uptown's major commercial strips:
  • Broadway from Foster to Irving Park Road.
  • Sheridan from Foster to Irving Park Road.
  • Argyle between Broadway and Sheridan.
  • Also large sections of the major east/west streets where they intersect with Broadway and Sheridan.

One such SSA is in place in Andersonville, and its impact is obvious. Edgewater has a new SSA and some of its funds are earmarked for 911 security cameras at L stations.

ULI to study Clark Street

Alderman Smith and the City's Department of Planning are once again engaging the services of the ULI (Urban Land Institute), this time to make recommendations for Clark Street, from Argyle to Devon. A panel from the ULI prepared an excellent set of recommendations for the Lawrence/Broadway Entertainment District in 2000. (www.uptownchicagocommission.org/uli_report.htm) The Clark Street ULI panel will tour the area extensively, meet with City personnel and several dozen community participants, and publish a report with suggestions and priorities. We anxiously await another fine work product.

Gunnison Lofts progress

The commercial and residential rehab project at Broadway and Gunnison has been full of starts and stops, but as of this writing, the Annoyance Theater and Silver Cloud Bar & Grill are still on board.

Annoyance Theater intends to lease its space. The theater's current offering of improv classes is full. It hopes to occupy this new space, with expanded class offerings. Interviews are underway for additional instructors. Opening of the theater and lounge will occur somewhat later. A zoning variance must be obtained for issuance of liquor license and public place of amusement license. (www.annoyanceproductions.com)

Cy Oldham of Bucktown's Silver Cloud Bar & Grill is purchasing the corner space. She plans to open this venue (yet to be named), offering a large selection of comfort foods. (www.silvercloudchicago.com) This will be the third dining/entertainment venue to expand into Uptown from Bucktown/Wicker Park, following the lead of Nick's and the Holiday Club.

Potential proprietors of a fine-dining, Indian restaurant, which was to open in the center space, have not returned calls. We wouldn't be surprised if they have lost patience with the project's delays.

Lakeside Clarendon TIF

Ansonia Properties has applied for low-income housing tax credits and grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority in two consecutive funding cycles (April 2004 and December 2004) and were not awarded assistance in either round. (This is the same agency that Holsten is applying to for Wilson Yard funding.) The funds were to be used to convert a newly-constructed (but never occupied) nursing home at the corner of Clarendon and Lakeside into twenty (20) studio apartments for low-income seniors. The fate of this structure is in question. If low-income redevelopment funds cannot be secured, the building will likely be razed and new condos built in its place. Because TIF funds would be involved, there would be a required 20% set-aside for affordable housing, either rental or ownership.

Ansonia also purchased the rest of the former Charter Barclay psychiatric hospital grounds. The main hospital building has recently been razed and is now ready for development. In addition, there are several former parking lots lining Leland which will be built upon. Ansonia is planning six ( 6) 8-flats on the remaining parcels. One of the 8-flat buildings will be dedicated to the City's CPAN program for affordable condo ownership (pricing near $150,000). (www.uptownchicagocommission.org/condo.htm)

Ainslie Rowhomes threatened

Seven historic rowhomes are situated at 1124-1138 W. Ainslie. They are an intact example of attractive, vintage housing. The architect was William G. Krieg. He designed other styles of housing in Uptown, including the mansion at 4636 N. Magnolia and a series of nine single-family frame houses on Magnolia between Argyle Street and the Chicago Public Library Bezazian Branch.

Developer Tam Tran purchased the former V&T Auto Lot on Broadway at Ainslie. He subsequently acquired the two westernmost townhomes. Tran plans to raze the townhomes to provide driveway access into a multi-story mixed-use building, with commercial space along Broadway and condos above. A zoning change is required. The project is within the 48th Ward and Alderman Smith will again require the developer and local community organizations to come to agreement. UCC favors the preservation of existing, historically significant structures whenever feasible. (www.uptownchicagocommission.org/positions_preservation.html)

Thai Grocery to rebuild

The owner of Thai Grocery at 5014 N. Broadway has plans to raze his existing building and the adjoining parking lot to build twenty (20) 2-bedroom condos. He is planning to construct a LEED "green" energy-efficient building. The building configuration will eiminate a side driveway extending across Broadway from Argyle (and the related curb cuts), which will be much safer for pedestrians. For those who patronize this wonderful shop, Mr. Lin does plan on reopening in the new first floor retail space.

Proposed senior rentals at Kenmore & Ainslie

Mid America Care Center, at 4920 N. Kenmore, is a skilled-nursing facility and has been in operation for 25 years. The adjacent vacant lot, at 4900 N. Kenmore, is owned by the same individuals. They've prepared a development proposal to construct an assisted-living facility for low-income seniors who are not yet ready for a full-time, skilled-nursing environment. This vacant lot is currently used by area seniors as a community garden.

Local block clubs have been unenthusiastic to the development proposal, particularly in light of the large number of low-income and/or psychiatric facilities in the immediate area. Within two blocks of the proposed development is Sommerset House, home to hundreds of psych patients. Their presence can be observed at any hour – day or night – near the intersection of Sheridan and Argyle.

The proposed development lies within Alderman Mary Ann Smith's 48th Ward. She insists that developers and local residents engage in honest efforts to review and approve development proposals. There does not appear to be much middle ground and this proposal will not likely move forward in its current form.

Three older buildings go condo

The three-story building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Leland has been sold and the new owners plan to rehab the building. Upper-floor, residential units will be converted to condos. The first-floor retail space will also be refurbished, thereby becoming more expensive, and it's unlikely that the existing shops can afford to stay. That will be a sad day for all of us hooked on Uptown Snack Shop's wonderful milk shakes and very reasonable prices.

Classic apartment buildings located on the north side of Lawrence at Kenmore and Winthrop are undergoing renovation and conversion to condos. Lawrence Avenue has been noticeably quieter since the tenants, some of whom were teen-aged, drug dealers, have moved away. We look forward to having concerned homeowners with a greater stake in the community occupying these units and keeping an eye on the street activities below.

Speculation of two historic terra cotta buildings to go condo

There are rumors that the Uptown National Bank Building, as well as the former Kemper Insurance Headquarters at 4750 N Sheridan (longtime home to the Institute of Cultural Affairs) are going condo.

Although the posting has since been removed, developer Joseph Freed & Associates' website recently contained the following:

"The Uptown Bank is a vintage, mixed-use project located at Lawrence and Broadway just north of downtown Chicago in the Uptown neighborhood. The bank lies just across the street from Uptown Square, another Freed property. Uptown is a popular entertainment district with the Riviera Theatre, the Uptown Theatre, Green Mill Jazz Club and Aragon Ballroom all in the immediate area. The project will consist of 314 condominiums and apartment units and approximately 67,000 square feet of retail on various levels."

Freed was the developer responsible for the lovely Uptown Square rehab, and brought Borders and other desired retailers into the heart of the entertainment district. Recent conversations between Freed and the bank owners must have been encouraging enough for Freed to begin assessing the degree of commercial interest. If not now, perhaps these kinds of properties will be redeveloped in the years to come.

Neighborhood Happenings

 

911 security camera

Alderman Mary Ann Smith is planning to install a security camera in Uptown at the corner of Winthrop and Argyle, at a cost of approximately $40,000. It will be connected directly to the city's 911 emergency center, where police personnel can monitor and review live video feeds. Funds will come from the 48th Ward's annual maintenance/improvements budget known within City Hall as "menu money". This new policing asset should assist in deterring illegal activities in the immediate area. A number of other 911 security cameras will be installed at Edgewater locations, funded both through Alderman Smith's menu money and from an Edgewater SSA (Special Service Area). All of this equipment will have the ability to pan down nearby streets and alleys, as well as onto the L platforms. Thank you, Alderman Smith!

Uplift charter high school

A group of Uptown educators successfully applied to launch a charter high school within the under-utilized Arai Middle School, which has been operating at 40% capacity in recent years. Their plan is to open Uplift charter school in 2006 and add one grade per year at the 6th-8th grade facility. If all goes according to plan, the facility will serve a full high school student body after four years in operation. Of course, this is contingent upon the Chicago Public School system navigating its ongoing financial woes, and upon the teachers' group successfully recruiting enough interested teens. Chicago Public Radio, WBEZ, is chronically this charter school's start-up challenges in a series of lengthy radio interviews. Stay tuned.

UPCORP launches Corridors of Vision

Over the course of several years, UPCORP conducted a series of "visioning" sessions, brainstorming meetings with diverse groups of folks involved in Uptown in a variety of capacities. Each session considered future development options for a specific section of our neighborhood. UPCORP has now placed these ideas on a website. Food-for-thought. (www.corridorsofvision.org)

Crew sidewalk café

UCC supported the Crew Bar & Grill's recent sidewalk café permit application, as did the Uptown Chamber of Commerce and UPCORP. We are delighted to participate in the growth of this new, neighborhood business. Crew has not yet celebrated its first anniversary and yet they are often filled to capacity with a diverse assortment of patrons. They have immersed themselves in two communities – the Chicagoland gay and lesbian one – and the broader Uptown one. This past holiday season the restaurant "adopted" McCutcheon School, treating two classes of sixth-graders to a private lunch replete with house specialties and cartoon videos. And to top that off, they raised money to purchase new, winter coats for hundreds of children at the school. Talk about raising the bar for community support by a new business!

The 3rd Age

This new home furnishings store opened in the spring at 1140 W Wilson. They carry upscale home furnishings & accessories, primarily from Asia. The store will only be open for a limited time, so check out their great inventory now!

Uptown Sweets

This candy shop, at 1218 West Wilson, is the third location for owner Mimi Chryssikos. The others are in Ravenswood and Rogers Park. The store carries a wide assortment of candy and Peterson's ice cream, and they have a toy section. Stroll over for some dessert or a quick gift. Uptown Sweets is open with extended hours for spring and summer, 11:30 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week.

Staples

Staples, the office supply store, has opened in the old Butera storefront at Wilson and Clark. Now solutions to all your office needs are just a short walk away. In addition to filling a retail need in our community, Staples has adopted Alternatives --- a 25-year-old social services/counseling organization for area teens. (www.alternativesyouth.org) Another new business has taken on the role of good neighbor!

Anna Maria Pastaria

This wonderful Italian restaurant has moved from north Lakeview to a new home (which they purchased and rehabbed) at the corner of Montrose and Clark. Please consider patronizing Uptown's newest restaurant.

Agami Japanese restaurant

A white tablecloth, Japanese restaurant will open this summer at Uptown Square (corner of Leland and Broadway) The owners currently operate three other restaurants --- on Randolph Street, in Arlington Heights and in Batavia. (www.swordfishsushi.com)

Body Fit Athletic Club

Body Fit, a new gym, has opened at Uptown Square, 4704 North Broadway, specializing in personal training. (www.bfac.net)

Uptown walking tours

The Chicago Architecture Foundation conducts excellent walking tours of Uptown sites. There are three scheduled for Saturdays this summer: July 23, August 27, and September 17. All depart at 10:30 am from Truman College. We highly recommend your participation. (www.architecture.org/tour_view.aspx?TourID=68)

Book discussion group

The Bezazian Branch of the Chicago Public Library (near Broadway on Ainslie) is hosting a book discussion group for Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran on July 16 at 11 am. For more information call 312-744-0019.


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