EDGEWATER — Loyola University officials have dubbed their plan to permanently close a portion of Kenmore Avenue and build a pedestrian walkway a "$3 million public improvement project."
"This is going to be available to anyone in the neighborhood who wants to enjoy it," said Wayne Magdziarz, the university's vice president for capital planning.
Magdziarz — the man behind Loyola's aggressive acquisition of neighborhood property, including run-down buildings — met with an influential neighborhood group Thursday before it voted on whether to support the university's plans to close the 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue.
The Association of Sheridan Condo/Co-op Owners grilled Magdziarz on traffic and parking concerns before eventually voting to support the street closure, as long as the university kept its word.
Some neighbors were concerned about lost parking — 52 spots have been unavailable since construction began on two residence halls on the block, which is now owned entirely by Loyola.
Magdziarz said he was working with Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) to work out a deal that would allow residents surrounding Kenmore Avenue between West Sheridan Road and Rosemont Avenue to park for free in school's nearby parking garage.
But parking would be restricted in the same way it is for students: No overnight parking.
Officials contend, though, that the university has alleviated parking problems by acquiring 380 rental units in the area and taking them off the market.
Other neighbors worried the street closure would force more traffic into the alleys and onto West Sheridan Road, which commonly backs up during rush hours.
"I just think the alleys are going to be thoroughfares," said Beth Bergmann, who lives on Sheridan just south of the university's new dormitory.
Magdziarz said campus police would issue tickets to motorists using alleys as through streets.
Neighbors also worried about bike traffic, but Magdziarz said the university would encourage bicyclists to use the walkway by installing bike lanes on it.
Loyola began planning for the closure of the stretch of Kenmore after it bought all the property on the block.
Conceptual drawings show the residential street replaced with grass, a permeable walkway and flower beds. An outdoor cafe will also be opened there when nearly 1,000 students move into the new dormitories.
Eventually, Magdziarz said, he'd like to close the 6300 block of North Winthrop Avenue to the west. But he assured neighbors that closing any streets south of Rosemont Avenue within the next 20 to 30 years was "not in the cards."
Even though one condo owner wanted Loyola to "own the property, but leave the streets to us," most members agreed Loyola was a force for good in the neighborhood.
"You are the only ones who stepped up to the plate — with money," said Ron Mendelblat, who lives nearby.
Osterman, who will make the final decision about whether to close the street, plans to hold a public meeting on the issue at 7 p.m. Thursday at Loyola's Quinlan Life Sciences Building, 1032 W. Sheridan Road.