WICKER PARK — Storefronts coming and going. New developments announced almost weekly. It's all happening in Wicker Park and Bucktown.
About 30 local people, including small-business owners and residents, attended the annual "State of the Wards" gathering Wednesday hosted by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce at Feast restaurant.
"Over the last year we've seen businesses going in and out. It's sad to see places like Clarke's [Diner] go out, but the good thing is there's a lot of vibrancy, and people want to step in and fill the gaps," Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said.
Waguespack provided numerous updates:
The reconfiguration of the Damen-Elston-Fullerton avenues intersection is expected to begin in early 2014, and the city is "finishing up deals with property owners," Waguespack said.
The rerouting of the intersection will require the removal of several buildings, which the city will acquire with about $27 million in TIF funds.
"WhirlyBall [at 1800 W. Fullerton Ave.] will be knocked down. The owner is planning to relocate it to Webster and Elston, in the old Lieber building," Waguespack said, referring to a manufacturing building at 1825-55 W. Webster St. in Lincoln Park.
Just west of WhirlyBall, the neighborhood will lose an iconic beef company, too.
"Vienna's [Beef] is moving out. They want to build a new plant on the South Side," Waguespack said, referring to a plant at 1000 W. Pershing Road, just north of the Stockyards, that the company signed a contract to buy earlier in May, according to Crain's.
Mariano's Market, a grocery store planned for a 4-acre parcel bordered by Ashland, Webster and Elston Avenues is "still moving forward," Waguespack said.
With the city's bike-share program, Divvy, expected to be coming to the neighborhood soon, Waguespack said the biggest issue that needs to be addressed is parking because the stations will "take up parking spaces."
"Bike shares, people spots, free Sunday parking ... what will that do to businesses?" Waguespack asked.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said that we "have to get out of the mindset that there's only a certain demographic in our city that cycles."
"We can't just have a cute bike-sharing program for Lincoln Park and Downtown, it's got to be robust," Moreno said.
Moreno said 25 bike-share stations are being proposed for the 1st Ward, and told the audience to stay tuned for an upcoming open house to show the suggested sites.
Other projects long in the pipeline were discussed, too.
Moreno said work on the Milwaukee-Wood-Wolcott intersection is "finally going to happen."
Though Grid Chicago reported work was projected to begin this spring, Moreno said the city "has 13 other intersections to do" and "they are not sure how to prioritize.
"I said let's do it by ward number," said Moreno.
Moreno highlighted a new 11-story apartment building at 1611 W. Division St. as the first of its kind in the city.
The residential building, set to open in October, has a special zoning for transit-oriented developments and is "for folks that don't want a car, to encourage dense development near transportation," Moreno said.
"The challenge with Milwaukee Avenue [in Wicker Park] is width or lack of width," Moreno said.
"The short answer is that it's a work in progress."
Waguespack cautioned that while it would be "a pretty cool thing to have bike lanes" on Milwaukee Avenue, it "can't just be something thrown out quickly" without further study, as well as stricter enforcement of laws for cyclists.
"At the same time we increase [bike] lanes, we need to increase enforcement. Our push this year is tickets, tickets, tickets," Waguespack said
After introducing himself, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said his ward lines will be "zig-zagging through the neighborhood" as a result of the new ward map that takes effect in 2015.
Fioretti described Wicker Park and Bucktown as "a vibrant area, where people want to come to live, to shop."
Fioretti cited the "need to encourage and foster businesses in the area," and said that while the new ward map doesn't legally take effect until 2015, he is already available to his new constituents.
Amid all the progress, there is a downside to being in an in-demand, fast-paced neighborhood, at least for small-business owners: survival.
Pamela Hewett and Julie Horowitz Jackson are local small business owners who have been in the area for 15 and 12 years, respectively.
After the gathering, Hewett, who owns Stitch, a designer furniture and accessories store at 1723 N. Damen Ave., said, "It's especially disturbing when investors from other states are owning our neighborhood buildings."
"Now all of our [retail] neighbors are corporate, and landlords are wanting $80 per square foot," Hewett said.
"We love our store, and the street, but as far as myself, we are considering other locations after 15 years on Damen," Hewett said.