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Uptown Entertainment District Would Get Boost Under North Broadway Plan

By  Benjamin Woodard and Adeshina Emmanuel | March 7, 2014 9:55am 

  City officials and area alderman revealed street designs and development possibilities Thursday.
North Broadway Plan
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EDGEWATER — City planners revealed street designs and development possibilities Thursday for Uptown's entertainment district and other stretches of North Broadway, asking residents to weigh in on the plans that could transform the busy corridor.

But Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) tempered expectations for a plan that's in its early stages and lacks firm financial footing.

"If there's something you don't like, don't panic," Osterman said to a packed room of North Side residents Thursday at the Edgewater Library. "If there's something you love ... don't get too overjoyed."

Benet Haller, the city's director of planning and development, and his team of city planners unveiled recommendations that would build on and spur more development along Broadway in Uptown and Edgewater.

Haller said the city would accept comments about the "conceptual" plan for the next month.

The plan included several proposed multistory buildings along Broadway and by the Uptown entertainment district at Lawrence Avenuw and Broadway, near the Riviera Theatre, Aragon Ballroom and vacant Uptown Theatre. Streetscaping initiatives focused on four major Broadway intersections — at Lawrence, Bryn Mawr, Thorndale and Devon avenues.

Plans show curb bump-outs, pedestrian refuges, bike lanes and landscaping.

"We want to make Broadway a more walkable street," Osterman said.

At Lawrence, near the heart of the Uptown entertainment district that officials are attempting to revive, the planners posed the idea of using the parking lot across from the Aragon Ballroom to build a "mixed-use development" and three-story parking garage. 

They said the lot was useful during concert nights but otherwise an underutilized "eyesore."

North of Lawrence to Ainsle Avenue on the east side of Broadway, the planners proposed park space, a three- to five-story parking structure, a boutique hotel and other mixed-use development.

The planners also suggested residential development at the former Aon Building parking structure and further use of the parking for entertainment events. 

At Bryn Mawr, planners suggested bike lanes be installed, not on the street, but within sidewalks. They also suggested more park space and curb bump-outs for pedestrians.

Osterman said the changes would complement a "mega-CTA station" rebuild planned for the Bryn Mawr "L" station.

Curb extensions, protected bike lanes and a streetscape were suggested at Thorndale Avenue.

At Devon Avenue, planners suggested a long-term plan of developing a five-story building with residential units and first-floor retail at the southwest corner of the intersection, where a drive-thru Starbucks was recently built.

On the east side of Broadway at West Sheridan Road, planners suggested a six-story signature building that would act as the "gateway" into Edgewater from the north. 

The intersection could also be redrawn to be more pedestrian-friendly — $3.1 million in Tax Increment Financing funds already have been set aside for that project.

With such a grandiose plan, however, residents were skeptical about how a cash-strapped city could make it happen.

"I'm most concerned about where the rubber hits the road — how this stuff gets translated," said John Holden, of Edgewater. "I'd love to see the continuation of the growth of Broadway. There's been a lot of fantastic stuff happening up here."

Resident Peter Donalek, 75, said the the planners had "a pretty straightforward approach to a project like this."

He did, however, take issue that nowhere in the plans was there mention of connecting North Broadway with the lakefront.

"There's so much traffic in the summer going to the lake," he said.

Uptown Bikes owner Maria Barnes welcomed plans to add more bike lanes to neighborhood streets.

"I think most people can agree that a good plan would be to increase safety for pedestrians, bicycles and cars," she said.

Uptown resident Andrew Vesselinovitch, also an architect with Ross Barney Architects, said that reducing traffic "would help business, because cars are just speeding by and not stopping to shop."

He proposed getting rid of two lanes of traffic and establishing a bicycle facility in Uptown.

Yet Earl Weiss, owner of the Uptown Service Station, a car wash and gas station at 4900 North Broadway, said that reducing lanes of traffic for the bike lanes on portions of Broadway would hurt businesses.

"And then you have the Riviera and Aragon, which generate a lot of traffic, and this traffic has nowhere to go if they cut the traffic lanes in half," he said.

When it comes to the Uptown Theatre's proposed rebirth, Osterman said "it's been a slow process," but officials are "continuing to work to see it moves forward."

Meanwhile, focusing on smaller entertainment district goals could go a long way to bolster the district, he said.

"I think part of what the city needs to do is really work to focus on some smaller venues while we wait for the Uptown to be redeveloped, get some smaller venues going sooner, and try to grow business that way," Osterman said. "I think that has potential to get more energy going in the right direction."

City planners encouraged residents to use this online tool to leave feedback about plans for North Broadway.