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 approved this week by the Chicago Plan Commission.
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.
The plan, released in January and approved Thursday, has already been helpful in shaping development proposals at Six Corners, Arena said.
"Regardless of who leads this ward in the years to come, we will have a roadmap to the revitalization of the one and only Six Corners," Arena said. "It is comprehensive and flexible while holding to a long-term vision for one of Chicago's most historic shopping districts."
The master plan's recommendations include:
• 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.
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 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.
Since the plan was drafted, the former Bank of America building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road has been sold and plans are in the works to turn it into a grocery store.
The plan says the success efforts to redevelop the Six Corners area hinge on whether that building can can be redeveloped to anchor the west end of the shopping district.
Although the master plan calls for the 300-seat theater on the second floor of the former bank building to be maintained, the building's new owner said that is not financially feasible.
The master plan also calls for the historic Portage Theater to play a major role the economic revitalization of Six Corners. However, the former movie palace has been dark since owner Eddie Carranza closed it after Arena said he would not allow Carranza to take over the theater's licenses based on the theater operator's pockmarked track record at the Congress.
The report encourages Carranza and city 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 had $7.7 million available to program, according to the city of Chicago.