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Northwest Siders Choose Parking Spots Over 'People Spot'

  The $600,000 project will not include a "people spot" that would have been the first in the area.
Irving Austin Business District Face-lift
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PORTAGE PARK — Plans have been dropped to build the Far Northwest Side's first "people spot" in the Irving Austin Business District as part of a $600,000 face-lift that city officials hope will boost local businesses.

The people spot, which would have allowed folks to gather in a playful place once ruled by cars, would have taken up too many parking spots in the business district near Irving Park Road and Austin Avenue, 38th Ward Ald. Tim Cullerton said.

In addition, with the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce or another volunteer unable to maintain the people spot or store its decking, seats and planters during the winter, maintenance would have been too difficult, Cullerton said.

"It would have been more trouble than it's worth," Cullerton said. "It might be something to look at in the future."

Heather Cherone discusses how parking spots were more coveted for one Portage Park strip mall:

The first people spots appeared last summer in the Lakeview, Andersonville, Kenwood and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods and drew rave reviews from some residents — and some criticism from business owners for taking up crucial parking spots and driving away customers.

The number of planters to be installed as part of the city project has been reduced to 10 from 18, Cullerton said.

Melissa Basilone, one of the founders of the Irving Austin Business District, said she was pleased with the plans — although the people spot could have been a cool addition to the district.

"It would have taken up too much parking," said Basilone, who owns Thrift & Thrive, a resale shop. "It was really based on feedback from the community."

Plans for the people spot drew a lukewarm response when the project was unveiled in March, despite city officials' statements that it would help draw shoppers and foot traffic to the business district along Portage Park's western edge that has been pockmarked with empty storefronts.

The project, which will begin in earnest after state officials resurface Irving Park Road from Naragansett to Austin avenues, will install pedestrian-friendly crosswalks, bigger sidewalks and new metal light pole banners featuring the logo of the Irving Austin Business District from Austin to Meade avenues.

Three intersections will be "stamped" with a decorative circular design on the pavement in an effort to encourage drivers to slow down — and give the business district a distinctive identity.

"We need some help to encourage new businesses to open up," Basilone said.

Curb "bump-outs" would also be installed at intersections to reduce the distance pedestrians need to cross the street.

A similar project is underway in Rogers Park along a four-block stretch of Devon Avenue.

"It is so exciting to have this on the horizon," Basilone said.

The third annual Irving Austin Business District Days event will take place June 14.

Local artists and crafters will show off their wares at Irving Park Road and Austin Avenue, and a classic car show will take place in the parking lot of the BMO-Harris Bank, 5960 W. Irving Park Road. 

The street fest will coincide with St. Pascal Church's carnival, which runs June 11-15 at 6143 W. Irving Park Road. The carnival promises a beer garden, rides, bingo, food and music.