PORTAGE PARK — Efforts to redevelop a long-vacant bank building and boost the revitalization of the Six Corners Shopping District have been given new life by a plan to turn the building into a grocery store and gym, while saving a historic theater.
About a dozen people, including Ald. John Arena (45th), members of the Six Corners Business Association and several artists, toured the former Bank of America building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road on Monday to discuss the future of the property, which has been in limbo for more than a year.
Mike Bousis, the owner of Cermak Fresh Markets, paid $2.9 million for the building in April 2013, planning to tear it down and build a new full-service grocery store on Six Corners' western edge.
Heather Cherone says it'll be a long process but the alderman wants to save the theater building:
But Arena urged Bousis to change his plans and save the 300-seat theater on the building's second floor, which was once home to the Northwest Chicago Film Society. Movies were shown there from 1971 to 2010, and arts supporters want it to be part of the developing arts and entertainment district at Six Corners.
But that discussion — which became tense at times with Bousis threatening to tear down the building and wait until after the 2015 aldermanic election to apply for a zoning change — meant progress ground to a halt, slowing the shopping district's revitalization.
The existing building is too small to house a Cermak Fresh Market, Bousis has said. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Bousis is now considering selling or leasing the 63,500-square-foot building, which covers half a city block between Lamon and Lavergne avenues, as part of a plan to turn it into a smaller grocery store and a gym, said Ed Bannon, the executive director of the Six Corners Business Association.
"This is an important parcel," Bannon said. "It could draw people to Six Corners."
The plan under consideration — which could be complete in as little as a year — envisions the restored theater as a home for Northwest Side arts organizations or an arts incubator.
Cyd Smillie, Arena's arts liaison, said it was exciting to envision new life for the theater.
"Each end of the equation would support the other," Smillie said, adding that people attending arts events would likely shop at the grocery and vice versa.
The theater could give artists from the 45th Ward a place to work near their homes, Smillie said.
Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff, said the plan discussed during the tour was one of a "banquet of possibilities" for the property at 4901 W. Irving Park Road that still faces "significant hurdles."
The site is directly adjacent to single-family homes, which would make the multiple deliveries every day to a full-service grocery store a nuisance to those Portage Park residents, Brugh said.
"We're at step zero of 20," Brugh said. "But we are encouraging the discussion."
A city-commissioned master plan, completed in January, said efforts to revitalize the area around Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues, which was once Chicago's premier shopping district outside the Loop, hinge on the redevelopment of the former bank building, which has been vacant since 2011.
"This redevelopment will have a big impact on Six Corners," Brugh said. "It has the potential to draw a lot of people to the area."
The master plan envisions a three- or four-story, mixed-use development on the former bank property, as well as restaurants along the side streets away from Irving Park to anchor the redevelopment of the western edge of the shopping district.
In addition, the master plan envisions eight townhomes on the site of the smaller parking lot south of Dakin Avenue, in keeping with the land's residential zoning designation as well as the nearby homes. A small neighborhood park or playlot serving the families south of Irving Park would also be appropriate for this area, according to the master plan.
In addition, the 4900 block of Irving Park Road is part of a pedestrian overlay zoning district, which is designed to protect walkable shopping districts.
The extensive regulations, which are designed to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort, cover everything from how much window space buildings must have, where doors should be located and how far the building should be set back from the sidewalk, according to the city code.
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