WICKER PARK — A shipping container will soon offer pop-up retail space to local entrepreneurs and "community activators" interested in perking up an otherwise sleepy passageway along Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.
Long serving as a shortcut for pedestrians who use Mautene Court at 1264 N. Milwaukee Ave. to get from Milwaukee Avenue to Division Street, the plaza has been tapped to be part of Activate!, a public-private initiative to make city-owned spots more inviting and improve street safety.
"When it comes to how people quantify a great public space, with trees and open space and places to gather, Mautene Court has all of that in place but it has been dead. It has the potential to be part of a strong commercial corridor," said Katherine Darnstadt, owner of Latent Design, an East Village-based firm that's been tapped to "activate" 30 city-owned spaces over the next three years.
Set to open next week, the 175 square-foot kiosk, named "Boombox," can be rented for $500 per week, for periods from 2 weeks to up to 3 months. The kiosk will be fully heated and has the necessary permits for hosting food, beverage and retail sales, Darnstadt said.
The first tenant will be a "Pop-up library," run by Logan Square-based Read/Write, a nonprofit lending library that will use the space as part of ongoing storytelling series during the month of November.
The public space, which is located next to Tocco restaurant, will also offer cafe-style seating, open to anyone who might want to picnic there even if they don't buy anything from a possible grab-and-go food vendor that could rent the kiosk, Darnstadt said.
Darndstadt said she plans to relocate her design office to the Boombox during September and that she is currently in talks with local retailers about booking the kiosk for the holiday season.
The Wicker Park Boombox is one of 10 public spaces to open this year and the first to have a Boombox. Not all spots will have a Boombox, Darnstadt said.
Dedicated to Jan Metzger, a historian, author, community leader and advocate of public space who passed away in 2010, the plaza, named Mautene Court, served as a staging area for deliveries to the once thriving retail and garment manufacturing district along Milwaukee Avenue in the first part of the 20th century.
In the 1970s, Mautene Court was converted into a public space.
"Mautene Court is basically functioning as a corridor and a pedestrian shortcut. It's exciting to see something nice happening over there," said Beth Sholtis, a program assistant with the Special Service Area Taxpayer District No. 33, which helped to renovate the court in 2008.
Latent Design Corporation was paid $50,000 to be responsible for the management and implementation of the Activate! program but will require additional sponsorships, grants and other revenue sources to be fully sustainable, said Michael Claffey, a CDOT spokesman.
David Ginople, a volunteer chairman with SSA No. 33 described the Boombox as "unique" and having the potential to increase foot traffic and commerce. "Make Mautene Court Happen" is part of a Master Plan for the neighborhood, Ginople wrote in a letter of support to CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld in June.
For more info on the Boombox or to rent it, visit Activate-Chicago.
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