ROGERS PARK — Three final bidders for the vacant, city-owned firehouse on Greenleaf Avenue did their best to woo Ald. Joe Moore — and more than 100 residents crammed Monday night into a church's auditorium — that their proposal was best for the neighborhood.
The bidders — a Hindu temple, two men looking to build a live-work space, and a social services organization — literally rolled the dice to decide who would present their plans first.
Dean Vance and Jim Andrews took the stage.
The couple (and their dog Tango) want to transform the firehouse into a "work-live" space. The renovation would include rooftop solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling system, and two greenhouses, according to site plans.
"Our goal is to go off the grid," said Vance, a longtime Rogers Park resident.
The two said they would live on the second floor, while the first floor would be used for their ad agency and an art-therapy practice — and could be used for community events.
Developer Scott Whelan, who also constructed Fountainhead restaurant in Ravenswood, could complete the rehabilitation by the end of the year.
"We have the right team, the right skills, the enthusiasm, the passion to not only deliver something special to Rogers Park but we think something truly extraordinary," said Andrews.
But some residents were skeptical what the plan would offer to the community, leaving one audience member to ask, "What benefit do I get?"
One thing the local government would likely get with the plan would be property taxes — unlike the other bidders, who are nonprofits and could be exempt from paying any taxes.
Vance and Andrews offered $250,000 to buy the firehouse from the city and expect construction to cost $788,000 — for a total investment of $1.04 Million.
Up next was Northside Community Resources and the Northside Community Development Corporation, two sister organizations with roots in the Rogers Park Community Council, which was founded in the 1950s to fight lakefront development.
The two nonprofit economic support and social organizations would transform the first floor of the firehouse into a community space for public meetings and other programming, while the second floor would be office space, said Tom Lisy, Northside Community Resources board president.
The organizations offer housing assistance, homeowner counseling services and support services for victims of violent crime.
"For us, the firehouse is absolutely the best fit," said Mike Glasser, the Northside Community Development Corporation's board president.
Glasser and Lisy said their Morse Avenue lease was up soon and they'd been looking at new spaces throughout the North Side.
"Think about the exciting possibilities that the community would reap if there's additional space," Glasser said.
The organizations bid the least amount to buy the property at $25,000 and expect construction to cost between $445,000 and $641,000.
Presenting last was the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a Hindu religious organization.
Known as the Hare Krishna Temple, the Hindu organization has been based on Lunt Avenue a block away from the firehouse for more than 30 years. The group also owns a parking lot to the west of the firehouse.
"It is in our backyard," said Nachi Lolla, the movement's leader in Illinois. "It’s a dream in the making for us."
The temple would offer yoga classes, massage therapy, counseling, meditation classes, festivals, after-school programs and would expand its free meal program to seniors, Lolla said.
The first floor would include a commercial kitchen and open space for programming, while the backyard would be transformed into a community garden and gathering space. The second floor would include apartments.
The firehouse's backyard would include a lotus pond.
The organization is no stranger to building temples. In Northeastern India, the group is building a $45 million, 350-foot-tall domed structure called the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.
The group has 500 institutional buildings worldwide, Lolla said.
The temple offered to buy the firehouse for $302,500 and expects construction to cost $710,000, for a total proposed investment of $1.2 million.
Moore, 49th Ward alderman, said he would recommend to the city which project was best for Rogers Park, but he wouldn't yet say what his recommendation would be.
"We’ve received a lot of opinions, and trust me, they’re all over the map," he said.
A wide range of those opinions were expressed at the meeting.
Sher Ragput, 70, a 30-year Rogers Park resident and adamant supporter and member of the temple on Lunt Avenue, said the temple's proposal would benefit the community's elderly.
Rob Mapes, an Edgewater resident and the vice president of Northside Community Resources's board, said the work-live space wouldn't offer much to Rogers Park.
"I don't really get what they'd bring to the community," he said.
Jeremy Dunn, 27, said he has lived across from the firehouse for the past year.
"The whole area is so underdeveloped," he said. "Not only that — the people are hurting."
Dunn said he was leaning toward supporting the proposal from Northside Community Resources and the Northside Community Development Corporation.
"It needs to be used to serve the community for decades to come," he said.