I attended last night’s meeting about redevelopment plans for the southeast corner of Devon and McCormick. It’s not yet a done deal but it appears to be close, and the larger community needs to be involved quickly.
The proposal is simple: In exchange for green space where the abandoned parking lot now stands, developers will tear down the theater and the car wash and build a storage facility. The deal is contingent on turning the parking lot into green space. This will provide a park for the community and will also enhance the appearance of the proposed 3-story storage facility.
It was stated that once the parking lot is replaced with turf, the developers would close on the deal within 45 days. It will then be too late for community input. The removal of the asphalt is the key to the project. Because the storage facility is viewed as the only type of business that would not require parking, it’s considered by many to be the only option for redevelopment. Where the facility’s customers would park was not addressed.
The meeting was sponsored by the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park. David St. Pierre, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), provided an overview of the site and said that he is ready to do whatever the community wants. MWRD owns the land on which the parking lot sits. The theater and car wash sites are privately owned.
Mr. St. Pierre said that the parking site is zoned as residential, and that it was abandoned because a re-evaluation of the property some years ago made operating the parking lot “impractical.” The site was evaluated at either about $2 million (his figure) or $8 million (the JCCWRP figure). Changing the zoning is not considered an option.
Early in the meeting, Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, Academy of Music and Dance on Devon Avenue, spoke briefly but forcefully about the community’s need for a cultural center, and suggested that repurposing the theater would meet that need and fit well with the goals of the Chicago Cultural Plan. The theater has been allowed to deteriorate, so any re-use would depend on how much damage has been done to it through owner neglect.
There was a marked reluctance on the part of those in the know to state exactly what business would be opening if the developers prevail. The fact that it is a storage facility emerged relatively late in the meeting, and many in the audience didn’t like the idea. But many others repeated the mantra that anything would be better than the blight that’s there now.
In my opinion, it’s this kind of short-sighted thinking that’s led to the sorry state of shopping throughout the ward. Filling storefronts rather than building business districts is not the answer. Neither is development without a unifying vision. The site in question has been vacant for 10 years, and a few more months of discussion involving a true cross-section of the community won’t do any harm. There are concerns about crime, the buildings having been vandalized and broken into, but why the owners have not seen fit to maintain and secure the property was not addressed.
I’ve been told that another storage facility is being built on Western and have heard that a third site is also being considered. I don’t think the community is well served by having storage facilities as its only growth industry. We need business that will provide jobs and sales tax revenue. The Devon-McCormick site was referred to as a “gateway” to shopping for both Chicago and Lincolnwood. I would prefer that shoppers entering West Ridge from the north and west encounter a cultural center rather than a storage facility as their first glimpse of our community.
Responsibility for maintaining the green space may fall on the community, unless the Chicago Park District is willing and able to take it over. There is a meeting between JCCWRP leaders and park district officials later this week. Several concerned citizens spoke out against relying on the park district, which has cut back on services in recent years.
If the community were to take responsibility, there would be a nominal fee, perhaps $10 per year, so the community would in effect rent the space and be required to maintain it. One important question that was not addressed is whether the community would then be responsible for shoveling the bridge between Kedzie Avenue and McCormick in the winter. This is now the responsibility of MWRD.
Another meeting will be scheduled to address issues raised last night. Watch this space for more information. In the meantime, you might want to review both the Cultural Plan of Chicago (here) and the offerings of Music House – Academy of Music and Dance (here).