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UPTOWN CHICAGO COMMISSION

Excerpts from the 2000 ULI Uptown Study


OVERVIEW AND SUMMARY

Uptown has long been and continues to be a point of entry for immigrants to the Chicago area. In addition, many longtime Chicago residents make their home, earn their living, and pursue their education in Uptown.

The word "diversity" is used throughout this report to characterize Uptown. The panel strongly believes that the preservation of this rich diversity provides an underlying strength that will enable Uptown to develop an entertainment district, improve and expand its business core, and revitalize the community as a whole.

Uptown's other major asset is its magnificent architectural heritage. The Uptown Theatre is the crown jewel of the district. Indeed, it is one of the most outstanding theaters in the United States. In addition, the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera Theatre, and the district's many terra-cotta facades make an aesthetic foundation upon which to build.

Uptown also is favored by a desirable location near Lake Michigan, excellent public transportation infrastructure, highway access, and mostly stable and attractive housing stock. Uptown should be well positioned to ride the coattails of the Chicago region's strong economic growth.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

A few preliminary observations on some basic issues are pertinent.

Finding Common Ground

The panel noted significant tensions between different elements in the community, including philosophical differences between the two wards, conflicting opinions among developers and advocates for the economically disadvantaged members of the community, and the unwillingness of some ethnic groups to work with others. There are truths and visions about which men and women of good character and conscience will differ, but at the end of the day, if all possible objections to any undertaking need to be resolved, then nothing can be accomplished.

It is incumbent upon the business, political, and nonprofit agencies in the community to use this report as a basis for a public visioning process that seeks to give everyone a voice, to reconcile differences, and to move ahead in establishing a plan for the neighborhood. The panel intends this report to be used as a starting point, not as a definitive final statement.

Preserving Diversity

The panel was struck by the diversity of the Uptown community, the abundance of its historic buildings, its multiethnicity, the variety of its housing, and the mix of retail and entertainment uses. The well-known urbanist Jane Jacobs has argued that diversity and density are the prerequisites for successful urban life. The Uptown community has both, and they represent strengths upon which Uptown can build. Different elements in the community may feel threatened by this diversity, but, in the panel's opinion, it contributes to the vitality and potentiality of the district.

Working in Proactive Partnership

None of the panel's recommendations will succeed without the committed involvement and support of the public sector. Local government can help put together layers of financing, use its powers for zoning and land assembly, provide essential services, approve plans, and construct infrastructure improvements. Without this assistance, little will be accomplished.

The private sector can bring indispensable resources and talent to the table. And nonprofit organizations can provide their constituencies not only significant services, but also a voice in the decision-making process.

Thinking Long Term and Seeing the Big Picture

The panel's report is not intended as a recipe for an immediate transformation. The report should be used as a springboard. It suggests directions that can be followed, but results will not be achieved overnight. The panel encourages patience. Stakeholders should take a long view of the revitalization of the Uptown area and see the broad picture of its evolution.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

In response to its assignment, the panel makes the following key recommendations.

Preserving Historic Properties

  • Give full support to the ongoing operations of the Aragon Ballroom and the Green Mill. These thriving entertainment venues will become part of the core of the entertainment district.

  • Focus restoration efforts on the Uptown Theatre, the premiere historic property in the district. Its restoration will be expensive and difficult, but the theater is a major historic and aesthetic treasure that must be retained.

  • Restore the Riviera Theatre for entertainment uses, thus adding to the critical mass of entertainment venues in the district. Consider the development of this property, however, to be of secondary importance compared with the restoration of the Uptown Theatre.

  • Do not consider the People's Church a priority for redevelopment. It is at the edge of the proposed entertainment district and it would be difficult to market it to a commercial user at this time.

Developing a District

  • In order to properly revitalize and redevelop the entertainment district of Uptown, act immediately to capitalize on the currently strong market conditions.

  • Attract better-quality retailers and restaurants to the Uptown community. A mix of local, regional, and national businesses should be assembled to provide the best possible array of consumer goods and services.

  • Make the completion of the redevelopment of the former Goldblatt's store the first step. The success of retailers in this project will spur investment by other retailers.

  • Provide parking. Uptown has a shortage of convenient parking. The surface-parking area behind the Uptown Bank should be developed as a multilevel parking structure with street-level shops along Broadway. Other sites identified by the panel for parking structures include the parking lot north of Lawrence Avenue west of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) right-of-way; the northeast corner of Lawrence and Broadway; Sun Center Plaza; the post office parking lot/American Metro Bank site; and the northwest corner of Magnolia and Lawrence avenues.

  • Develop a coordinated marketing and promotions strategy to create a calendar of events and bring metropolitan area residents and tourists to Uptown.

  • Undertake a comprehensive streetscape improvement program.

  • Because of its proximity to Uptown, apply specific requirements for the development of the Wilson Yard property, which is currently being considered. Require, namely, that the Wilson Yard development provide at least 10 percent more parking than is required for the project itself and that it comply with the design guidelines established for the Uptown district.

  • Consider developing an indoor ethnic marketplace. With its array of ethnic groups, attractive location, and ready supply of entrepreneurs, Uptown would be a logical place to initiate such a marketplace, which could attract business and accompanying spillover activity from the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

  • Capitalize on the community's ethnic diversity, which is a major asset for creating community character and identity, particularly with regard to dining and retail opportunities. Consider developing, as noted, a marketplace with an emphasis on international foods or a multicultural center with offices and meeting rooms available to all cultural groups and associations.

Organizing the Community

  • Clarify the approval process. The community's leaders and residents should work together to prepare a development plan and guidelines for the district. Any development plan must have broad-based community support.

  • Manage the redevelopment process and the district like a business is managed, assigning appropriate responsibilities to city aldermen, city agencies, local community groups, and local stakeholders.


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