When the Pratt-Western site for the new library was announced, the alderman said that she “hoped” it would spur development on Western Avenue. I think West Ridge residents should take the initiative and begin working together to bring locally-owned small businesses to the area. The library will attract lots of attention, and neighbors should start discussing how to capitalize on that attention without sacrificing the wonderful neighborhood feel that the street currently has. Unlike Devon, which has become so tourist-oriented that it no longer appeals to residents seeking a night out or a place to take the family, some stretches of Western have developed a homey, small-town main street appeal–walkable, friendly, and portraying the kind of family-oriented neighborhood that makes West Ridge such a great place to live.
We might first erect a sign at Pratt noting that the rubble-filled location is the future site of the Northtown Library.
Walk or drive down Western from Devon to Estes (four blocks north and four blocks south of the library location) and you find lots of automotive-related businesses, including a hand car wash and a couple of auto body shops. Almost every block holds at least one business-related parking lot, including two sites for Taxi Town. These aren’t the most attractive parts of the street, but could be improved with fencing and murals, for example.
As you approach Lunt, you find an area that is home to many small businesses. Everything you could want is here: optical shops, a florist, a couple of beauty shops, our local True Value hardware store, a music school and a preschool. If you’re waiting for the kids, drop in at the antique store or take the dog to the pet spa.
Several restaurants (Chinese, Mexican, American diner-style, McDonald’s, KFC, with Rub BBQ currently being remodeled and renamed) as well as Lickity Split and Bina’s Café around the corner on Lunt provide great choices for lunch or dinner. Two convenience stores (H&M Foods and A&M Convenience) carry snack foods.
Each of the three banks in the area (Devon, Chase, Byline) has an ATM drive-through, and there’s gas station across from the library site. There’s a mosque and a storefront church.
Unfortunately, the area also includes four vacant storefronts, a half-block long vacant lot, and a couple of vacant buildings. This is where community input is needed. How should that vacant half-block be used? Could we entice a developer (CHA?) to create a mix of affordable and market-rate housing? What kinds of businesses do nearby residents want and need? Clothing shops? Toy shops? A bookstore? How can vacant buildings and storefronts contribute to the revitalization of the area?
Improving Western Avenue is a big part of the library project. Let’s get to work.