WICKER PARK — The owner of a gas station just west of the Kennedy Expressway in Wicker Park wants to raze the building to make way for a 7-story, 99-room hotel because times have changed and the demand for gas is down — especially among bike-loving Wicker Park residents, his lawyer says.
"A gas station has become a tough business, especially in this neighborhood. A lot of new people coming in do not have cars and the ones that do have cars, have smaller cars that are more efficient. There is not as much need," said Mark Kupiec, a zoning attorney representing George Nediyakalayil, owner of a Shell at 1551 W. North Ave.
Nediyakalayil wants to build a 63,000-square-foot hotel with 50 parking spots on the southeast corner of Ashland and North avenues.
The matter will come before the city's committee on building and zoning standards on Aug. 27. If approved, the hotel — to be designed by architect Ronald Vari — will join a rapidly changing block where an Audi Dealership and an apartment building with new retail storefronts are both underway just east of the gas station.
The proposed hotel would be a few blocks south of Walsh Park, at the eastern end of the 2.7-mile-long Bloomingdale Trail that extends west to Bucktown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park. The intersection is also about a half-mile east of Wicker Park's main hub, where the Northwest Tower and an adjacent building are being converted into a 87-room boutique hotel.
Kupiec said his client is responding to changes in the neighborhood and that the hotel will be an upscale boutique hotel that would be "a plus for the neighborhood."
Currently there are no renderings to share, but Kupiec said Vari is "refining [the design]" and will introduce color photos at a community meeting to be hosted by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).
Steve Niketopoulos, Chief of Staff for Hopkins, said on Thursday that Hopkins is talking with Nediyakalayil and Kupiec to arrange a community meeting within the next few months to discuss the plan.
Currently zoned as a neighborhood shopping district, the request will seek a change in status to commercial zoning to allow for a hotel on the premises.
It is unclear how long the spot has been used as a gas station. Lizy Gracia said on Thursday that she has worked there for 18 years and became a manager two years ago.
"I love working here, the people are the best part," Garcia said, adding that while she would be "devastated" if the station closed, she would want to be transferred to a job at another of Gas Depot's spots or even at the hotel.
Nediyakalayil's Morton Grove-based company, Gas Depot, supplies gas to several Chicago fill-up stations, including the Shell at North and Ashland avenues and another Shell at 1768 W. Armitage Ave.
Garcia said business at the Shell has declined over the years but picked up two years ago when a nearby Citgo closed, in the 1500 block of West North Avenue. That gas station was replaced by luxury condos.
"Prices [of gas are] going up and gas is more expensive by the highway. If we closed there is BP [at 1600 N. Elston] that would probably get busier," she said.
Some neighbors of the gas station who live on or along Ashland Avenue were supportive of the plan.
"I think this is a good move since the intersection of North and Ashland serves as one of the gateways to the neighborhood. Hopefully what is eventually built at this location will at the very least be architecturally significant," said Andrew Miller, a photographer who lives about a block from gas station.
Kupiec said that a rise in young families moving into the area has brought more friends and family who live out of town to visit who would rather stay at a local hotel than downtown.
"We think [there's] more of a demand for hotels in the neighborhood than there was years back," Kupiec said.
Lizy Garcia, a longtime worker at Shell. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
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