PORTAGE PARK — A building that could jump start the revitalization of the Six Corners Shopping District has been sold and is set to become a grocery store.
Mike Bousis, the owner of Cermak Fresh Markets, said he paid $2.9 million for the former Bank of America building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road and plans to tear it down to build a new grocery store that will feature ethnic foods, a full-service bakery and prepared food.
"We will cater to the community," Bousis said. "It will definitely be multicultural, an international market."
Cermak Fresh Market has locations in Aurora and Milwaukee, and plans to open a number of new stores in Chicago, Bousis said.
"There is a definite need for another grocery store in this area," Bousis said. "We can bring something special."
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.
The retail gap in the grocery category is $6 million, the study found.
Restaurants and stores selling specialty food, home decor, and apparel and accessories are needed additions to Six Corners, the survey found.
The new store, which will compete with the Jewel grocery store, 4660 W. Irving Park Road, and Family Fruit Market, 4118 N. Cicero Ave., will feature a full-service deli and meat counter as well as a big bakery, with seating inside, Bousis said. Prepared food will also be sold, Bousis said.
The store will also feature a variety of ethnic food, including Mexican and Eastern European fare, Bousis said.
A city-commissioned master plan, completed in January, said efforts to revitalize the area around Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues, which was once Chicago's premier shopping district outside the Loop, hinge on the redevelopment of the former bank building, which has been vacant since 2011.
The nearly 63,500-square-foot building, which covers half a city block between Lamon and Lavergne avenues, should be used to anchor the redevelopment of the western edge of the shopping district, according to the master plan.
Bousis said he had considered renovating the building in an effort to save the 300-seat theater on the second floor, which was once home to the Northwest Chicago Film Society. Movies were shown there from 1971 to 2010.
Although the theater was being marketed to local arts organizations, damage done to the building and the theater by vandals would be too expensive to repair, Bousis said.
"There is a lot of damage," Bousis said. "The seats were torn, the copper wiring was torn out. We could never make it work."
The new grocery store could open in two years, Bousis said.
Ed Bannon, the director of the Six Corners Business Association, said he was eager to see details about the proposed development.
"We're happy that the property has changed hands," Bannon said. "It is always a good sign when someone is willing to invest in the area."
Ald. John Arena (45th) has been working to turn Six Corners into an arts and culture Mecca that would draw people from all over the city with the promise of a show and dinner, an effort endorsed by the master plan.
Bousis also bought an adjoining property from Bank of America at 4939 W. Irving Park Road, which is now a single-story store. In addition, the property includes two parking lots. There are 184 parking spots north of Dakin Street from Lavergne on the west to Lamon on the east, separated from the building by an alley. A lot with 76 spaces is south of Dakin at Lamon.
The master plan envisions a three- or four-story, mixed-use development on the former bank property, as well as restaurants along the side streets away from Irving Park.
In addition, the master plan envisions eight townhomes on the site of the smaller parking lot south of Dakin, in keeping with the land's residential zoning designation as well as the nearby homes. A small neighborhood park or playlot serving the families located south of Irving Park would also be appropriate for this area, according to the master plan.
Bousis said he had reviewed the master plan, and would take it into account as much as possible, adding that he is looking forward to working with Arena.
"But we have to make it work financially, and the city will do what creates the most jobs and tax revenues," Bousis said.
Owen Brugh, an aide to Arena, said the alderman had not heard from Bousis about his plans for the property. The new grocery store would most likely require a zoning change, because the property has both residential and commercial zoning designations. Zoning changes typically require the approval of the alderman as well as other city officials.
In addition, the 4900 block of Irving Park Road is part of a pedestrian overlay zoning district, which is designed to protect walkable shopping districts.
The extensive regulations, which are designed to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort, cover everything from how much window space buildings must have, where doors should be located and how far the building should be set back from the sidewalk, according to the city code.
Bannon said the fate of the proposal would be important for the future of Six Corners. Several new restaurants are planned for the area, and a new museum and theater opened earlier this year.
"The right kind of development could spur growth and continue the momentum that we've created," Bannon said. "The wrong kind could be a drag."