PORTAGE PARK — A long-vacant bank building would be transformed into a grocery store and gym under a plan unveiled by Ald. John Arena (45th) that would save a historic theater and create space for nonprofit arts organizations.
The first floor of the former Bank of America building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road would become a grocery store and the first Retro Fitness gym in Chicago, Arena said.
A 300-seat theater on the second floor, which was once home to the Northwest Chicago Film Society, would be restored, and offices for medical services and nonprofit arts groups created, Arena said.
The new proposal for the 50,000-square-foot building would pull the high-profile property in the Six Corners Shopping District out of the limbo it has been mired for nearly two years. Retro Fitness has signed a lease for the property, Arena said.
Heather Cherone discusses the timing of the announcement:
The project would need $2.5 million from the Portage Park Tax Increment Financing District "in order to preserve the theater for community and non-profit use," Arena said.
Aldi grocery stores has signed a letter of intent, but not a lease, to open in the renovated building, which has been vacant since 2011, said Arena, who faces an April 7 runoff against Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido to retain his seat on the Chicago City Council.
Coffee giant Starbucks also signed a letter of intent, but not a lease, to open near Irving Park Road and Lamon Avenue near the former bank building on the western edge of Six Corners in an area that would allow a drive-thru to be built, Arena said.
The Wisconsin-based "Butter Burger" and custard chain Culver's is also interested in opening a location near the renovated bank building, which has been vacant since 2011, Arena said.
A meeting to discuss the plan is set for 6:30 p.m. March 11 at Las Tablas, 4920 W. Irving Park Road.
Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff, said the alderman supports the project, which requires a zoning change because the building's 260-space parking lot is erroneously zoned residential. The lot also must comply with city laws requiring landscaping around surface parking, Brugh added.
"We think it is a good plan," Brugh said. "It was a long hard road to get to this point. We look forward to a vibrant discussion."
Mike Bousis, who bought the building and several adjacent properties in April 2013 for $2.9 million, had planned to tear the massive building down and build a new location for his chain of Cermak Fresh Market stores.
But Arena asked Bousis to reconsider those plans and renovate the building in order to save the theater that became famous on the far Northwest Side because of its incongruous location inside a bank branch. Movies were shown there from 1971 to 2010.
The discussion over the fate of the property 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. Arena beat Garrido in 2011 by 30 votes.
But Bousis agreed to consider changing his plans in order to save the theater at the alderman's request. He did not return a phone message Monday.
Arena said it made sense to try to save an existing theater in an area that he has been working to revitalize by turning it into an arts and culture mecca that would draw people — and their wallets — from all over the city and suburbs with the promise of a show and dinner.
The proposal "falls into the mission" of the Six Corners Master Plan, Arena 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, according to the master plan.
That plan, approved in 2013, said the building, which covers half a city block between Lamon and Lavergne avenues, should be used to anchor the redevelopment of the western edge of the Six Corners district.
The master plan envisioned 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.
In addition, the master plan envisioned eight townhomes on the site of the smaller parking lot south of Dakin, in keeping with the land's residential zoning designation as well as the nearby homes. A small neighborhood park or playlot serving the families located south of Irving Park would also be appropriate for this area, according to the master plan.
No homes or apartments are proposed under the current plan.
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