UPTOWN — Uptown and Edgewater residents are looking forward to seeing four Red Line stations in the area renovated, but they're a little worried about the construction itself and its impact on area businesses.
The Chicago Transit Authority held a meeting at Truman College in Uptown on Wednesday to gather feedback about a $1.13 billion plan to rebuild the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations over three or four years starting in 2017.
The stations all date from the early 20th century and lack modern amenities, including elevators.
Alyssa Berman-Cutler with Uptown United, an economic development organization, said she was thrilled about the Lawrence station helping revitalize Uptown's entertainment district.
But she expressed concerns about the project's potential impact on current businesses and how construction could deter new businesses from coming to the area.
"Our biggest concern is with the construction itself and making sure that it's not stopping the economic development that we're having right now," Berman-Cutler said at Wednesday's meeting. "So we're excited to see the investment in the community … but we feel there needs to be a lot of attention paid to making sure we don't have these giant construction holes in the ground for the next 10 years."
CTA said its plan to rebuild tracks, bridges, viaducts and support structures would make Chicago's busiest train line faster and more reliable, while increasing capacity to meet rising demand and installing elevators so riders with disabilities could better access the stations.
It's part of $4 billion "Red Ahead" efforts to modernize Red Line and Purple Line infrastructure, including a $203 million makeover of the Wilson station scheduled to start in 2014.
Uptown resident Foka Togbe, 30, said he had been pining for a more attractive station at Wilson that would help make his redline commute Downtown to work faster. The Truman College student said he was fine with station closures, and other construction impacts — "but I hope they will do it very quick, and very soon."
While the renovations are needed, Berman-Cutler and other neighbors worried about the fate of businesses in a strip mall on Broadway between Lawrence and Ainslie avenues, which the CTA plans to purchase for the project. The mall includes a Rosati's Pizza, a nail salon and an outpatient medical center run by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital.
"We're doing our best to make sure those businesses stay in the community," Berman-Cutler said.
To rebuild Lawrence with an elevator, the station platform will have to be widened and the tracks will have to shift west over the footprint of the strip mall, 4837-4887 N. Broadway. While that calls for demolitions, CTA said parts of the property not required for the expansion would be used as a construction staging and storage area, and would be available for redevelopment when the project is over.
CTA has released renderings of a mixed-use development at the location anchored by a grocery store and apartments, the type of transit-oriented development the agency prefers there and around other soon-to-be renovated stations.
An employee at Rosati's Pizza said people at the pizzeria were "bummed out" to hear that the business could have to move, especially since spending thousands of dollars on remodeling the place since December.
The plan also requires the CTA to buy a car dealership and public storage facility in Edgewater.
"All the places where we need to acquire property, we're always going to be working with whoever is there in helping them do relocation in a way that fits their business model, fits their needs," said Michael Connelly, the CTA's Vice President of Planning.
CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinki said that landlords would be given fair market value for buildings acquired, and displaced businesses would be given relocation assistance.
"The whole point is not for us to disrupt and disperse the community," she said.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he would work with CTA and business owners on property acquisitions to help both sides find suitable compromises.
Edgewater resident Daryl Ramsey said a temporarily ugly corridor during construction was worth it given the benefits of the project. He said an overhaul by the CTA was "long overdue" at the stations.
"They should have made them accessible a long time ago — once they passed the Americans with Disabilities Act," in the '90s, said the 60-year-old accountant. "I think it will have a great effect, people with disabilities can get around."
Recent smaller station upgrades on the Far North Side, what CTA says were interim measures in advance of RPM plans, did not include elevators at the stations because they were too old to have elevators added without a complete rebuild, according to the agency.
After the recent small-scale makeover of the Argyle station, "a lot of senior citizens, disabled people and parents with strollers asked why it wasn't ADA accessible," said Osterman, adding that he aims "to make sure there's escalators and elevators in all the stations."
He sees the Argyle rebuild as a project that will "keep Argyle a thriving district for a long, long time," in combination with its staple businesses, the blooming Argyle Night Market and streetscape plans in the area. Most locals he's discussed the project with are on board with it, according to Osterman.
"I think they understand the importance of this," Osterman said.
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