LINCOLN PARK — While many businesses are thriving on Clark Street in Lincoln Park, other storefronts have remained empty for years — and the city is now trying to change that.
The majority of those empty storefronts are owned by the same man: Jerry Winkler, owner of Los Angeles-based Marwin Properties, says Ald. Michele Smith (43rd). Winkler, who used to live in Chicago, owns 45 storefronts on Clark, Smith said.
At her urging, the city is attempting to put pressure on him and other owners with empty storefronts to either rent them or sell them.
The city has filed a lawsuit against the owners of eight Lincoln Park buildings, including six that are owned by Winkler. The suits cite a number of safety and building code violations, ranging from rotting porches to poor trash maintenance.
"It's a very, very heavy [legal] complaint and we will see what happens," Smith said. "I think it's time for the neighborhood to stand up."
The buildings the city filed suits against include: 901-903 W. Armitage; 2320 N. Clark; 2324 N. Clark; 2342 N. Clark; 2344-48 N. Clark; 2530-44 N. Clark; 2460-68 N. Clark; and 2653-65 N. Clark/531-51 W. Drummond.
Winkler did not respond to requests for comment.
Attorneys representing the building owners appeared in Cook County Circuit Court late last week to respond to the city complaints. Several claimed the owners had already hired contractors to fix problems detailed in the suits.
Smith and a dozen Lincoln Park residents attended the hearing to send a message that the community was fed up with the empty storefronts.
"The main reasons we are here today are to ask the landlord to clean up his act, rent his space or sell it to someone who will," Smith said at the Friday hearing.
Associate Judge Pamela Hughes said while she could make sure the buildings were brought up to code, she couldn't force anyone to rent out their properties.
"I understand your frustration," Hughes said.
The judge ordered the Department of Buildings to schedule both interior and exterior inspections of the eight buildings before the next hearing set for Aug. 22.
Sandra Matson, president of the Park West Community Association, said the issue of vacancies had been going on for more than a decade.
"This has been a big problem for a very long time," she said. "In some cases, the buildings have been vacant for more than a decade."
Smith's fight against vacancies, and in particular Winkler, dates back to at least 2010, when she formed a task force to combat the vacancies.
At the time, she said part of the problem was Lincoln Park is "overbuilt in terms of retail. ... There is today more existing shopping space than can be supported."
The issue of vacancies should be kept in perspective, according to Padraic Swanton, a spokesman for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce.
"It's hard because when you look at streets that used to be 100 percent full, now maybe with 15 percent vacancy, that's 15 out of 100, but it's not 60 out of 100," Swanton said. "It's not perfect, but it's a lot better off than it could be."
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