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107-Year-Old Church to Circus Project Seeks Zoning Change

By Paul Biasco | December 3, 2015 6:18am | Updated on December 3, 2015 5:02pm
 The interior of the Logan Square church that would be transformed into a circus training center.
The interior of the Logan Square church that would be transformed into a circus training center.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LOGAN SQUARE — A circus school's move into a 107-year-old church is inching closer to reality.

The owner of Aloft appealed to neighborhood residents Wednesday night in hopes of obtaining a zoning change that would allow the center to transform into a circus center.

Clowns, trapeze artists, jugglers — both professional and amateurs — all took to the mic emphatically stressing how positive an impact the training center has had on their lives.

Aloft is seeking to move into the First Evangelic Church at the corner of Kimball and Wrightwood avenues.

"We have traveled all over the world as circus performers and this is one of the best places in the world to train as a professional circus performer," said Charlotte Greenblatt, a hand balancer who moved to Chicago with her fiance last year.

Greenblatt, who is also studying to get a doctorate in mathematics at UIC, performed her routine on the altar in front of the crowded meeting audience before official business got underway.

"Aloft is such an amazing place and is such an attractor of great people to Chicago, the kind that you hopefully want to have in your neighborhood,” she said.

Aloft, the world-renowned circus school, raised more than $60,000 in a crowdfunding campaign in August with hopes of buying the church, which had been listed for $1.3 million.

The circus school has the financing in place and the purchase is pending a zoning change that would allow it to operate the circus school and a two-flat with three apartments immediately adjacent to the church.

The school, which has been offering classes for 10 years, now operates out of a warehouse in West Town.

The move into the Logan Square church would be fairly painless, according to Aloft's founder Shayna Swanson.

The church's high ceilings would be used to string up trapezes and other acrobatics.

Swanson said many of the training center's community already lives in Logan Square and that Aloft hopes to turn the center into a community staple.

"I really want this to be a community center and a community-based place," she said.

One of the main points of concern by those in attendance at Wednesday's meeting was a zoning change that would allow for future owners of the church and property to build or run a business that is out of place in the community.

"We fought big developments nearby for the last 20 years," said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago and a 20-year resident of the neighborhood.

Miller said he hoped Aloft would retain the exterior and as much of the interior of the church as possible, and Swanson agreed.

"We've created a neighborhood that's a livable neighborhood that has a historic preservation component," Miller said. "That's really important."

A performer from Aloft opened Wednesday night's meeting with a routine. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Mark Heller, a longtime neighborhood resident, worried that a zoning change could set precedent for other buildings in the neighborhood.

While Heller said he supported the circus school's move into the building, he proposed rezoning the building in a way that would revert the church to its original residential zoning designation once the use is OKd.

Rolando Acosta, the zoning attorney representing Aloft, said he would consider the idea but would have to confer with the bank providing lending for the

The vast majority of those in attendance Wednesday supported the circus school's move and were excited about the unique center coming into the neighborhood.

"Somebody is going to buy this building," Swanson said. "It could be a circus school or you could be sitting here meeting with a developer right now.”

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