ROGERS PARK — The ribbon was cut Wednesday for a new 250-space parking garage along Sheridan Road backed by billionaire investor Col. Jennifer Pritzker's development firm Tawani Enterprises.
The garage is at the former site of a Buddhist meditation center.
At the ceremony, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said that while parking garages are not generally known to be "awe-inspiring," the structure at 7331 N. Sheridan Road is an exception.
"This is like wow, this is really stunning," Moore said.
As of Wednesday, the facility had 75 monthly parkers and one Zipcar. A total of 822 transactions for the garage had taken place since its opening Aug. 5, according to a Tawani spokeswoman.
Construction is also underway for another Pritzker-backed development with parking, a 45-unit residential effort at 1313 W. Morse Ave., which will have 75 parking spaces. In an email to residents explaining his support for the Morse project, Moore said the population in Rogers Park has decreased 13 percent, or about 8,500 residents, since 2000.
The Sheridan Road garage is now the sixth parking garage in the neighborhood. The project initially received pushback from some local activists and community groups who opposed the garage's location and purpose — instead fighting to designate the Prairie-style home that housed the meditation center as a historical landmark. Some protested the development by referring to the garage as a "car tower" that belonged in more suburban areas.
Moore eventually OK'd the plans and demolition permits were issued for the meditation center, which later moved to a different location. During Wednesday's ceremony, Pritzker thanked the meditation center for agreeing to sell her the property, calling the situation a win-win for the former occupants and current neighbors.
Bill Morton, president of the Rogers Park Chamber of Commerce, said his group unanimously voted against the development and joined efforts to block its approval. But he attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and said he now "hopes for the best," adding he spoke with Pritzker to let her know his organization was there to support her.
"As a board, [the Chamber] opposed the parking structure in the past due to many legitimate concerns voiced to us by residents and businesses of our community, which we represent. Now that the parking structure is complete, this ends our ability to oppose its construction," Morton said in a statement. "We wish Jennifer Pritzker the best in her future endeavors, just as long as they do not dispose of the life, character, culture, diverse businesses and rich history of Rogers Park."
One neighbor, Scott Philips, who has lived in Rogers Park for over 20 years, said of the many potential uses for the property, he could not imagine anything that "reflects less vision and has a more negative impact" on the community than "a hulking parking garage."
Philips said while he acknowledged the building would help some people needing to park in the neighborhood, the project was a "horrible idea" that "grossly outweighed" its benefits.
But for Pritzker, the $16 million project has a deep and special meaning, she said.
Pritzker, a former Illinois Army National Guard officer, has devoted a portion of her fortune to preserving historic homes, such as the Emil Bach House, and into new developments including the Mayne Stage Annex on Morse Avenue. She also owns the Farcroft Apartments and Lang House Bed and Breakfast.
She said her family has a deep history with Sheridan Road, making the development particularly personal. She said she grew up on a portion of Sheridan, went to Loyola University and was stationed at Fort Sheridan during her time in the Army.
She brought a replica of the sabre used by General Philip H. Sheridan in a statue at the Army post to cut the ribbon Wednesday.
"I am very enthusiastic about this," she said, adding the structure would "remove the traffic congestion we are all so painfully aware of."
Designers added an "R" to the international "P" symbol usually attached to parking areas to signify Rogers Park. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Pritzker also said the building would allow and encourage people from outside the neighborhood to visit, boosting the local economy. The garage symbolizes the "marriage of democracy and free enterprise," she said.
The garage, built a block from Lake Michigan, replaced the former Shambhala Meditation Center, which was demolished.
Sixty of the parking spaces will be reserved for residents of Farcroft by the Lake, a 12-story building rehabbed by Tawani two blocks north, and 84 spaces would be set aside exclusively for residents.
The remaining 106 spaces would first be reserved for visitors of the Emil Bach House, but would open to the public when there are no Bach House events.
The spaces for residents — and any reserved spaces that are not being used — would be available to the public for hourly and monthly parking, priced at $125.
Hourly parking would be available to the public for $2 an hour and $8 a day.
The facility also includes electric charging stations, an audible and visual car warning system for pedestrians and car sharing and rental options such as Zipcar and Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
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