PORTAGE PARK — Leaders of the Irving Austin Business District are crafting a master plan that will shape the future of the area around Irving Park Road and Austin Avenue, which is riddled with empty storefronts.
A new survey, available at local businesses and online, is the first step in crafting a comprehensive plan, said Melissa Basilone, who owns the Thrift & Thrive resale shop and the Perkolator coffee shop in the district with her husband, Joe.
"We want to use the survey to identify how to move forward," said Basilone, who helped found the Irving Austin Business District. "We want positive ideas from residents and businesses."
Heather Cherone says the vacant Patio Theater is seen as a potential anchor to the district:
The survey and the master plan is the work of Sean Glowacz, a planner whose parents live near Lawrence and Austin avenues.
"Without a vision its hard to get anywhere," said Glowacz, who is volunteering his time while working in economic development.
In addition to general biographical information, the survey asks residents what they like most about the district, which stretches along Irving Park Road from Melvina to Menard avenues on the western edge of Portage Park.
The survey also quizzes respondents about whether they would favor allowing a business to obtain a liquor license, and what kind of business it should be, offering options such as a pool hall or club.
"Little by little this area is coming back," said Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) said. "We just need to get it looking a little better."
In an effort to ease parking in the area, Cullerton removed some of the metered spaces along Irving Park Road near the Burgundy Restaurant, 5959 W. Irving Park Road.
But those metered spaces will have to be replaced elsewhere in the ward under the terms of the city's parking meter lease deal, Cullerton said.
In addition, a street resurfacing project that started this week is the first step in a city plan to spend $600,000 to spruce up the streetscape along Irving Park from Austin to Meade avenues in an effort to boost business in the area.
The Irving Park Road streetscape project will install pedestrian-friendly crosswalks, bigger sidewalks and new metal light-pole banners featuring the logo of the business district from Austin to Meade.
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, Cullerton said.
The survey also includes questions about the fate of the Patio Theater, which is up for sale.
While there is interest in buying the former movie palace, which was listed for $2.9 million, the owner has yet to agree to sale, Cullerton said.
The property's agent, Jim Darrow, of Chicago-based Essex Realty Group, did not return a phone message.
Once the results of the survey have been complied, the business group will host a meeting to share them with the community and gather more feedback, said Glowacz, 30.
Then a plan detailing the long-term vision for the area will be crafted, finalized and used to attract new businesses, Basilone said.
"We're hoping for a good response," Basilone said.
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