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South Loop Neighbors Gear Up to Fight Against Rooftop Park

 New renderings of  the public park proposed for a British School roof  were released at a meeting Tuesday.
New British School Renderings
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SOUTH LOOP — Some residents near the Roosevelt Collection want the 2.2-acre park they were promised on the ground — not two stories above it, as proposed by developers seeking to build a British School in the vacant lot behind the mall.

"I don't believe what the developers are proposing really meets the definition of a park," said South Loop resident Robin Toewe, whose building at Harrison and Dearborn streets sits three blocks from the park.

She and other area residents hope to catch the attention of Ald. Danny Solís (25th) Thursday at a South Loop Neighbors community meeting. The alderman hasn't yet decided which side to take, according to Stacy Raker, a spokeswoman for his office.

McCaffery Interests, which owns the Roosevelt Collection and the surrounding land, got a green light from the Chicago Plan Commission last week with the passage of an amendment allowing them to "construct a two-story school, athletic fields, a roof top garden and ... approximately 11,000 square feet of open space" in the lot that's "currently vacant and unimproved."

The amendment still has to pass through the zoning committee and secure a full-Council approval, but Toewe said area residents felt they needed to start mobilizing now.

"Chicago has a history with these things: once they get through stage one, they're pretty much on track to jump through the next two hoops," she said. "But we're not ready to give up that fight yet."

McCaffery's President Ed Woodbury has been sparring with neighbors over the plan, which was amended when McCaffery bought the Roosevelt Collection space from Centrum in 2011. Woodbury vowed to keep Centrum's promise of greenspace in the plot of land bounded by South Wells Street, West Polk Street and West Ninth Street.

In January, he unveiled his compromise at a community meeting: McCaffery would build a two-story building for the Lincoln Park-based British School, and include a park on top. Two months later, architect Joseph Antunovich came back with revised renderings addressing some resident concerns.

But many South Loopers say they aren't willing to compromise.

"I just want to make sure that the South Loop gets the actual greenspace that was promised," South Loop Neighbors Vice President Jaqi Green said at the January meeting.

On Tuesday, South Loop Neighbors urged its members to tell the alderman where they stand by writing letters and calling the 25th Ward office.

Solís "has been at several community meetings on this issue," Raker said. The alderman has received letters from the community, and discussed the project with its developers, she said.

Raker will attend the meeting Thursday, collecting notes and feedback for the alderman, who's out of town.

One of those letters came from Toewe.

"A two-acre park has been part of the planning for this area for 20 years," she wrote on Wednesday. "The developer of the property should not be allowed to sell or lease the property to the British School or anyone else."

"This park is more than a promise to South Loop in a PD document filed in the bowels of City Hall," Toewe added. "It’s a necessary amenity to build a true sense of neighborhood."

The community meeting, hosted by South Loop Neighbors, will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday at Grace Place at 637 S. Dearborn St.