'Community Hub' in the Works for Stalled Roosevelt Square Development

By Chloe Riley on May 14, 2013 10:59am 

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 A library, market and Buddhist meditation center were several projects imagined by fifth-year University of Notre Dame architecture students for the Roosevelt Square area on the Near West Side.
Roosevelt Square Proposals
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NEAR WEST SIDE — A community center could be a key new addition to the stalled Roosevelt Square development, the massive site on the Near West Side that was formerly home to the ABLA public housing project.

The single-story, 7,300-square-foot “Community Hub” would be located at the northeast corner of Roosevelt Road and Throop Street, officials said.

The center, said Matt Aguilar at the Chicago Housing Authority, would serve as a resident meeting space, gallery, arts classroom, technology center and outdoor terrace.

“It would be a great place if we could teach skills to neighborhood kids,” said Nancy Plax, of neighborhood organization Connecting4Communities. “It needs to be a welcoming safe haven … but with a purpose. And they need to think out what those purposes are going to be.”

The community center at the northeast corner of Roosevelt Road and Throop Street is expected to be completed by early 2014, Aguilar said.

However, the timeline for finishing construction of more than 2,400 units of mixed-income housing on the entire 35-block Roosevelt Square site is still up in the air, as an extension of the Tax Increment Financing district helping pay for the project is needed, officials said.

In addition to a community center, several other ideas for the site were presented by fifth-year University of Notre Dame architecture students at a community meeting last week. The students presented renderings of future possibilities for the Roosevelt Square site, which has remained largely undeveloped since construction of some units first started in 2004 but then stalled during the economic downturn.

The student ideas included a library, theater, neighborhood high school, public market and even a Buddhist meditation center.

About 40 residents at the meeting hosted by Connecting4Communities were receptive to many of the proposals, which also included a community center along Maxwell and Aberdeen streets and a redesign of the Marcy Newberry children’s center along Racine Avenue and 12th Street.

Ron Sakal, one of the professors who supervised the student project, said back in November, the students were searching for a neighborhood on which to focus and were drawn to both the opportunities and difficulties presented by Roosevelt Square.

“They loved the challenge, they loved the neighborhood, they loved the feel of the place,” he said.

CHA officials did not immediately comment on the students' proposals.

But Dennis O’Neill, executive director of Connecting4Communities, said building a high school at the site would fill a critical need for the neighborhood. He also thinks it is the most feasible.

Still, O'Neill stressed that "far more input" was needed from the community on Roosevelt Square.

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