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Uptown in the News  

February 25, 2004
Wilson Yard plan receives favorable reviews at meeting
Uptown Update: Another in a series of stories about some of the changes in store for Uptown.
By Angela Caputo, Lerner correspondent

Following years of debate over what to develop at the CTA's old Wilson Yard in Uptown, roughly 250 people packed into a cafeteria at Truman College on Thursday, Feb. 19, to get an update from city officials on planned construction of housing and various stores there, including, next fall, a supermarket.

Although city officials were not willing to disclose the complete plan for the site, they did present a general time line for development. The first part of the project will commence in the fall, when construction of a new Aldi grocery store will get under way at the northern end of the site.

And by fall 2006, a new Target store and a movie theater are anticipated to be ready for business, city officials announced.

Talks about developing the 5-acre site --- roughly bounded by Broadway, Montrose, Wilson and the Red Line L tracks --- have been in progress for nearly a decade, and community residents say they are antsy to see ground broken. Most of the site has been vacant since Oct. 26, 1996, when fire destroyed a repair and storage facility that the CTA had been using since around 1900.

"It has been eight years, and we are very eager to see something started," said David Rowe, executive director of the Uptown Chicago Commission, a residents' group pushing for more upscale commercial development in Uptown.

Extensive community participation in devising a plan for the plot has slowed the process at times. Residents say their top priorities have been incorporating affordable housing and big-box retail into the space, while protecting the historic integrity of the community. This has been no easy task, said Ald. Helen Shiller (46th).

The sometimes-divisive process is in the past, though, community leaders say. Now most agree that the impending plan is well-suited for the community.

"Although not everyone would see exactly what they want (in Wilson Yards), everybody would see their footprint," Shiller said.

Andrea Redfeairn, of the 4700 block of North Dover Street, said she approves.

"I think it has everything that people were looking for, if it is carried out as they say it will."

Deals with incoming businesses have yet to be sealed, according to developer Peter Holsten. Restaurants, small retail outlets and offices for nonprofit organizations are expected to fill in the area surrounding the anticipated flagship, a 180,000-square-foot Target, with a 15-screen movie theater stacked on top.

The Chicago Transit Authority currently owns the Wilson Yard and is in the process of selling the property to the city. The city, in turn, will strike a deal with developers.

The CTA is not willing to disclose how much the land will go for, but a spokeswoman confirmed it would be sold at market rate.

"With budgets being tight, we can't afford to sell the land for less," said CTA spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi.

The CTA will eventually have to shell out money for restoring the Wilson stop along the Red Line, which is slated to occur in tandem with the surrounding development. Currently plans for the L stop are in the design phase, which is expected to last at least two years before the renovation begins, according to the CTA.

During the upcoming summer, a more detailed plan should be available. It will be presented at a community forum, Shiller said.

Some neighbors say they are anxious about whether the new structures are congruent with the historic architecture that makes Uptown a standout among Chicago communities.

"We don't want big concrete boxes without any character," Rowe said.

Holsten said he couldn't make any promises that historic preservation would be possible. The ornate terra-cotta façade on a commercial building on the northwestern corner of Montrose and Broadway will be preserved if possible, he said "if not, we'll replicate," indicating a commitment to considering the current design in the future plan.

The building at Montrose and Broadway will undergo a dramatic transformation, as a senior complex will sprout above the existing storefronts. Catholic Charities will head up that project, which will bring additional apartments to low-income seniors.

Other affordable housing will be brought into the area through a cooperative of 70 units, with between one and three bedrooms.

Mark Fick, president of the Organization of the NorthEast, a community group that rallied for the affordable housing component, said he was generally happy with the plan.

"However, I would have liked to see more affordable housing, because what's being done is only a small attempt to replace what's been lost in our community," Fick said.

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