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Wicker Park Residents Worry About Design of Proposed Hotel, Added Traffic

By Alisa Hauser | August 20, 2015 5:31pm
 The first community meeting to discuss a proposed Marriott hotel plan for Ashland and North avenues drew a large crowd on Wednesday.
Marriott Hotel Plan for Ashland and North Avenues
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WICKER PARK — If you don't want it, I won't build it.

That was the message to Wicker Park residents from a man who wants to replace his Shell gas station with a 99-room hotel.

George Nediyakalayil and his team met this week with residents who live near the southeast corner of Ashland and North, the hotel's proposed site.

During the heated meeting at the Pulaski Park Field House, residents fired off concerns, including gripes about the generic design of the possible Marriott, the building's height and the traffic flow at the intersection just west of the Kennedy Expressway.

Around the heated meeting's 90-minute mark, Nick Tanglis, a spokesman for Nediyakalayil, the owner of the gas station and the property, said, "Let us know right now if you will not support it financially; its success is a product of your participation."

Many of the 60 attendees — most living or working within a few blocks of the proposed site at 1551 W. North Ave. — said they were not opposed to the idea of losing the gas station in favor of the hotel.

The proposed 7-story 63,000-square-foot hotel — to be made of concrete and designed by architect Ronald Vari, would either be a Marriott, Hyatt or Hilton, but none of the three hospitality behemoths have signed on and are "in discussions," Tanglis said.

"Twenty years ago, no hotel would consider opening in the spot. They are excited to be here because of what you, the people in this room, have done for the neighborhood," Tanglis said.

The hotel, which would bring at least 40 new jobs to the corner, would target mid-to-upper class lodgers and have a 68 percent occupancy (not too far below the Downtown average of 75 percent), according to hospitality consultant Ted Mandigo. Rooms would cost between $150-200/nightly and there would be 50 parking spots.

The customers would be business travelers, friends and family visiting local residents and tourists in town for trade shows.

If approved, the hotel would join a changing block where an Audi dealership and an apartment building with new retail storefronts are both underway. The intersection also is about a half-mile east of Wicker Park's Damen and North avenues hub, where the Northwest Tower is being converted into an 87-room boutique hotel.

Mark Kupiec, a zoning attorney for Nediyakalayil, said, "These corner sites do justify a major building. This site is also particularly interesting because it's close to the expressway."

The proximity to the expressway also brought up worries over prostitution, which was a problem along North Avenue for several years until the past few years.

"That element is out," said George Liakopoulos, owner of Hollywood Grill, a 24-hour diner on the opposite corner of the gas station as well as The Hat, a new restaurant at 1604 W. North Ave. on the northwest corner of the intersection.

Liakopoulos, along with the families behind Aranda Tire, who own 27 other properties along Ashland Avenue, expressed support for the hotel.

"Maybe this development will actually bring more walking traffic to the area," Liakopoulos said, but he added, "It's not North and Damen. It's never going to be North and Damen."

Cecilia Lopez, who grew up in the neighborhood and said she does not feel safe walking on Ashland Avenue between Division and North because of the empty storefronts, added, "I think it will bring a lot more foot traffic, make it safer."

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he would require a signed promise that no lounge or bar would ever come to the premises. Vari said only a small pantry for guests, stocked with wine or beer and snacks, would be available onsite.

After the meeting, Nediyakalayil told DNAinfo Chicago that he would not build the station if the community was against it.

"If the community wants it, I will do it. If the community doesn't want it. I will keep it as a gas station," Nediyakalayil said.

Nediyakalayil, who owns 12 other gas stations, said he got the idea to bring a hotel to Wicker Park because his gas station customers are part of the "next generation," mostly millennials who don't want the people visiting them to have to stay Downtown.

"This is the future. Wicker Park could be the next Downtown, at North and Damen. This is closer [to North and Damen] and it would be the only hotel off the highway between Downtown and O'Hare," Nediyakalayil said.

Early Thursday, Hopkins said he has no formal stance on the issue and has requested that the developers hire a traffic engineering firm to submit a report with options for entering and exiting, and an analysis of the number of parking spots required.

Currently zoned as a neighborhood shopping district, the project needs a change to commercial zoning.

The zoning change request was scheduled to come before the city's committee on Building and Zoning Standards on Aug. 27, but Hopkins said he's deferring the matter until a traffic study is completed and shared with the public, likely in three weeks.

Erik Harmon, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said his group does not have a stance either, but the chamber's Planning, Zoning, Hospitality and Development Committee plans to meet with Nediyakalayil soon.

Nick Herro, who lives within a half-block from the proposed hotel said the planned use for the space "will be an economic driver for local business owners," but that he and his neighbors want to make sure that the building's design, both aesthetics and height, fits the neighborhood.

"We want to avoid developing a prominent building that erodes the very character that attracts residents and visitors to the neighborhood today. The hotel going into the building at Damen and North has character; it would be great if similar standards applied to a building on Ashland and North," Herro said.

Mark Kupiec, a lawyer for George Nediyakalayil, addresses the crowd. [All photos by DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

A resident with a question for developers at a charged community meeting to discuss a proposed hotel.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) listens to residents' feedback.

A Shell Gas Station at North, Ashland Avenues that its owner would like to replace with a hotel.

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