PORTAGE PARK — The area around Six Corners must become more dense and pedestrian friendly for it to reclaim its status as one of Chicago's premier shopping districts, according to a master plan commissioned by the city.
Among the recommendations:
• A cluster of high-rise buildings with some 300 apartments and condominiums should be built on the southeast corner of Irving Park Road, Cicero Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue.
• Two new mixed-use commercial developments should to be constructed along Milwaukee Avenue with shops or offices on the ground floor and homes on the upper floors.
• A plaza should be built near Belle Plaine and Cuyler avenues. In order to make that possible, a strip mall that now houses a Subway restaurant and a Dollar Tree store should be reconfigured.
The master plan endorses efforts by Ald. John Arena (45th) to turn the area around Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues into an arts and culture mecca that would draw people from all over the city with the promise of a show and dinner.
"We need the density if we want the shops and the restaurants," Arena said. "It has to be done responsibly."
Based on a survey by ESRI, a national vendor of business data, Northwest Side residents spend $141 million on shopping and eating outside the area. That situation creates a significant "retail gap" and an opportunity for new shops and restaurants to claim that business, according to the report.
"We have to bring businesses back to Six Corners," said Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), who represents a small section of the shopping district. "And that depends on the economy, and people's disposable incomes. The sun and the moon have to align."
This isn't the first time city officials have crafted a master plan for Six Corners, with the last one completed nearly 15 years ago that resulted in few lasting improvements.
"The proof is in the execution," said Anna Zolkowski Sobor, the vice president of the Old Irving Park Association Board of Directors and a member of the steering committee that crafted the new report. "There are lots of great ideas, but who has the money? Not the city."
The master plan, which was drafted by the Lakota Group after two community meetings, establishes a vision for the area, Arena said.
"The worst development happens when there is no vision," Arena said. "The developer's vision has to match our vision, or they have to be flexible. Otherwise, they should go elsewhere in the city."
Developments in downtown Park Ridge and other suburbs have shown that dense development near shops can create a thriving shopping district, Cullerton said.
"As aldermen, all we can do is to provide the infrastructure," Cullerton said.
The plan also calls for the city to shorten and widen the crosswalks while extending sidewalks throughout the district to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the diagonal streets — and get from store to store.
But the success of the revitalization effort depends in large part on whether the former Bank of America building at 4901 Irving Park Road can be redeveloped to anchor the west end of the shopping district. A 300-seat theater on the second floor should be maintained, according to the report.
A firm is in talks to buy the building and transform it into a grocery store, but no other information is available, said Ed Bannon, the executive director of the Six Corners Business Association.
"We need a livable amount of density, and it makes sense to do it right at the intersection," Bannon said.
The historic Portage Theater can help drive the economic revitalization of Six Corners, and the city should work to encourage a diverse slate of programming for families, film lovers and young concert goers, the plan suggested. The newly opened National Veterans Art Museum and Filament Theatre Ensemble across Milwaukee will help draw attention — and theater lovers — to Six Corners, officials said.
The report also encourages officials to pursue Historic Preservation Tax Credits to finance an extensive rehab of the theater, the storefronts surrounding it and the 34 apartments above the former movie palace.
Other improvements could be financed by the two tax increment financing districts that include Six Corners. The Portage Park TIF has $15.3 million.
The master plan should give developers certainty about what the community will — and will not — support, Arena said.
"It should lead to an informed conversation," Arena said, noting that it should help avoid protracted battles over proposals. "That will mean a better project, a better result."
"It is a road map," Bannon said. "If you know where you are going, you are more likely to get there in the end."