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Uptown in the News  

February 18, 2004
Arts play leading role in Uptown development
By Jack Bess, managing editor

Any neighborhood business district that already boasts such historic entertainment venues as the Green Mill Lounge, the Aragon and the Riviera isn't doing too badly.

But this year, new developments in the Broadway/Lawrence area will heighten the area's identity as an arts/entertainment/cultural corridor:

  • A new Borders Books & Music is expected to open in April at the former Goldblatt's building on the 4700 block of North Broadway.
  • Annoyance Theater has just signed a lease for its new home at the former Heilig-Meyers furniture store, 4840 N. Broadway, now renovated as the Gunnison St. Lofts. The building will include 22 residential units and two upscale restaurants.
  • Crew Bar & Grill, a sports bar whose primary audience will be the gay and lesbian community, is expected to open this spring at 4804 N. Broadway.

Further down the road is the development of Wilson Yard, a 5-acre parcel bounded by Wilson, Broadway, Montrose and Truman College. Among the potential tenants for the site are Target and a 16-screen movie theater.

Borders is expected to have a significant impact on creating a new image for Uptown, primarily because it will be highly visible from the Red Line L.

"There will be people walking around here who haven't walked around here before," said Joyce Dugan, director of Uptown Community Development Corp. "And hopefully, while they're here, they're also going to eat and buy flowers and buy used books."

"It will be a different crowd than would use the Riviera or the Aragon or the Green Mill," adds Wally Rozak, associate director of the Uptown Chamber of Commerce. "You're going to see a different type of person here."

Developing an "arts and entertainment corridor" has long been a goal of Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th) and the Uptown business groups, which made that goal one facet of its "Corridors of Vision" initiative, a planning process for Uptown's major arterial streets that began in 2000.

The vision will also be realized with the Gunnison St. Lofts building, where the Annoyance Theater is expected to move into part of the first floor in May, says Jim Finnegan, of Finnegan Development. The theater group plans to hold evening shows 4-5 nights a week, teach classes five days a week and offer their new "Annoyance Lounge," for fraternizing before or during shows, he says.

Annoyance, which lost its lease at 3747 N. Clark St. in 2001, is known for its 11-year-run of "Coed Prison Sluts" and the "Real Live Brady Bunch" show.

Of the other commercial spaces, Finnegan said two local restaurateurs will open the "G Lounge," on the northeast corner of first floor. The cuisine will consist mostly of tapas with a French Mediterranean influence, he said. They hope to make this more of a destination stop, where people would make a night out for dinner, he said.

In a second space, two local entrepreneurs plan a summer opening of "Lazeez Bistro," a modern Indian restaurant with traditional Indian food, but with non-traditional décor and ambience, in the middle section of the first floor space, Finnegan said. They hope to serve lunch seven days a week, but initially will open only for dinner, he said.

Greg Harris, chief of staff for Ald. Smith, said the Gunnison Lofts building "has a mezzanine, which will be really nice for the restaurants. They will be able to get a couple levels of dining and lounges and places where people can sit."

Add in the opening of the Crew Bar, and "all of these things are starting to signal that there is a lot of opportunity in the neighborhood," Harris said. "You have a huge site across the street from the Uptown Theatre which a number of people are looking at as a site for possible development.

"But the one thing the alderman says to everybody is, we have a community process and a set of community standards here that have to be met. Whatever goes there is going to be thoroughly reviewed and signed off on by the community before anything gets approved."

Still another project is taking place across the street from the Aragon, where office spaces are being rehabbed as condos, Sharon's bar is being renovated and commercial tenants are being sought for the first floor, Rozak said.

As for Wilson Yard, developers, city officials and Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) plan to give an update to the community at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19 at Truman College.

It's a complex retail and residential project with numerous elements including, according to developer Peter Holsten, a 500-space underground parking lot; a big-box retail tenant; a 16-screen movie theater above the retail space and an additional 300 parking spaces at the top of the box; relocating Aldi's to the northern end of the property; a mid-rise senior building to be done by Catholic Charities; another mid-rise of affordable housing on the south end; and market-rate housing on the western end of the site.

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