NORTH PARK — A vacant movie theater and car wash that's been an "eyesore" for a decade could be transformed into a public storage facility, while its adjacent parking lot could become a park on the North Shore Channel, officials said.
The old Cineplex Odeon Cinemas, which closed in 2005, was sold to Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School in 2008, said Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf, the school's executive director.
Wolf said the theater couldn't stay open after the owner of the parking lot, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, was forced to significantly increase the property's lease rate.
The school eventually wanted to build a new school there, at 6385 N. McCormick Road, but found better property elsewhere, he said.
So it's languished.
"They have vandalized the building," said Wolf. "The community is in an uproar."
The rabbi said despite attempts to secure the building, which include heavy-duty metal barricades, scavengers and vandals have drilled holes in the brick exterior to gain entry.
On Wednesday, graffiti could be seen along the roof of the about three-story building. Garbage was strewn about the property.
"We have to do something with the parking lot," Wolf said. "The community wants to see that space inhabited."
Howard Rieger, president of the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park, organized a community meeting Tuesday night about the property. He said more than 100 people attended.
"There isn't 1 inch of the property along the [North Shore Channel] trail that’s an eyesore except for this miserable couple of acres," Rieger said. "We’re allowing the site to be used by gangs and drug dealers. ... Everything looks good around there except for this disaster."
But now a deal is in the works to transform the property.
Banner Storage Group, a subsidiary of Northbrook-based Banner Apartments, has proposed tearing down the old car wash and renovating the theater to open a three-story self-storage facility, according to Wolf.
John Nikolich, Banner's executive vice president, said the project was "too early in the process to discuss."
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) declined to comment on the plans, as well.
"I am working with the City, the Chicago Park District, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, community organizations and the property owners to redevelop this important parcel," she said in a written statement. "As soon as any concrete plans become available, I will inform and involve the public."
A spokeswoman for the water reclamation district said she couldn't immediately comment Wednesday, but Wolf and Rieger said district executive director David St. Pierre had told them he would be willing to convert the district-owned parking lot into public park space.
"This could be a win-win," Rieger said. "So much of the downside of any situation at a neighborhood level is neglect, lack of initiative and fatalism — people saying, 'Oh, there's nothing that can be done.' What I’ve learned is you can do something."
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