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Ridge Avenue Firehouse: Two Arts Organizations Vying to Buy Building

By Benjamin Woodard | September 12, 2013 9:11am
 The city hosted an open house at the vacant firehouse, drawing a variety of neighborhood groups.
Ridge Firehouse Open House
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EDGEWATER — The city has whittled down a list of prospective buyers of the city-owned Ridge  Avenue firehouse to two "reputable art organizations from the North Side of Chicago," said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th).

The alderman said he couldn't divulge any other details but would hold a public meeting on the city's final recommendation.

"We're excited about it, and I think the art organizations have a good reputation," Osterman said at a neighborhood block club meeting Wednesday night. "I wish I could elaborate more on who they are."

Dozens of prospective bidders toured the decrepit firehouse at an open house in May. Since news first broke earlier this year that the firehouse — and 10 others across the city — would hit the market, calls began rolling in from people looking for more information about what it would take to renovate the Chicago landmark at 5714 N. Ridge Ave.

The city started taking proposals earlier this month, seeking "the introduction of a commercial and/or not-for-profit development focusing on arts, recreation or culinary activities that are open to the public."

The city said it would consider more than money in its evaluations of what could become of the property appraised at $360,000.

Among those attending the open house were restaurant owners, like Ashley Wright of Hamburger Mary's, and two theater companies, Li'l Buds Theatre Company and Pegasus Players.

But neighbors living near the firehouse, which was built in 1928, said any increased traffic to the area could be more than the neighborhood could handle.

"We already have tons of traffic on Hollywood from Ridge that goes very fast. The speed bumps do nothing, and I think it's dangerous," said Karen Weeks, 38, who lives near the firehouse with her 3-year-old daughter.

Weeks, who said she favored a residential development to replace the firehouse, said even an arts-based venue would put lives at risk — especially children crossing four lanes of Ridge Avenue.

Sue Morales, president of the area block club, has similar concerns, but supports a low-key development.

"That traffic is so fast, it's scary," she said. "I work on it [Ridge Avenue] every week on my planter, and I feel like I'm taking my life in my hands."

Morales said she worked with former Ald. Mary Ann Smith on a committee that came up with recommendations for a bed-and-breakfast or other limited development.

Osterman also said the city was in negotiations to buy the neighboring one-story building, demolish it and possibly turn the site over to the future owners of the firehouse — but talks had stalled with the building's owners, who live there.

"For far too long it's been a blighted, nasty space," he said of the southwest corner at Ridge and Wayne avenues.