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First Culver’s in Chicago Getting Closer, Thanks to $2 Million From City

 The Chicago City Council Wednesday approved a plan to use $2 million in city funds to redevelop a long-vacant bank building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road.
The Chicago City Council Wednesday approved a plan to use $2 million in city funds to redevelop a long-vacant bank building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road.
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Culver's/DNAinfo

PORTAGE PARK — Portage Park soon could boast the city's first Culver's — known for its "butter burgers" and frozen custard.

The City Council Wednesday approved a plan to use $2 million in city funds to turn a long-vacant bank building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road into a Binny's Beverage Depot and gym while saving a historic theater and creating space for nonprofit arts organizations.

The development also would include Wisconsin-based Culver's, which plans to open a restaurant with a drive-thru window west of the former bank building where a tire shop used to operate at 4939 W. Irving Park Road.

A Culver's also is expected to open this year in Wrigleyville.

In addition, a new Elly's Pancake House Restaurant will be built at 4925 W. Irving Park Road, next to the former bank building, officials said. The chain also has a location on the Jefferson Park-Gladstone Park border.

The approximately $14 million project calls for the lower floors of the former Bank of America building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road to be transformed into the first Northwest Side Binny's and the first Retro Fitness gym in Chicago.

The development, which promises to reshape half a city block between Lamon and Lavergne avenues on the western edge of the Six Corners Shopping District, will use $2 million from the Portage Park Tax Increment Financing District to preserve the 300-seat theater and rehabilitate the more than 50-year-old building to include offices and rehearsal space for nonprofit groups.

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

Ald. John Arena (45th) endorsed a subsidy of $2.5 million, which was later reduced to $2 million after months of negotiations.

The redevelopment will benefit the community by "filling a hole" in the Six Corners Shopping District, the alderman has said.

Efforts to revitalize the area around Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues, which was once Chicago's premier shopping district outside the Loop, hinge on the redevelopment of the former bank building, according to a 2012 master plan designed to bring new life to the area.

The redevelopment of the bank building has proceeded in fits and starts since April 2013, when Mike Bousis, the owner of Cermak Fresh Markets, paid $2.9 million for the building and announced that he planned to tear it down and build a full-service grocery store on Six Corners' western edge.

But Bousis clashed with Arena, who urged Bousis to change his plans and save the second-floor theater, which once housed the Northwest Chicago Film Society. Movies were shown there from 1971 to 2010, and arts supporters wanted it to be part of the emerging arts and entertainment district at Six Corners.

But that discussion — which became tense at times with Bousis threatening to tear down the building and wait until after the 2015 aldermanic election to apply for a zoning change — meant progress ground to a halt, slowing the shopping district's revitalization.

Bousis later sold the property to Cui, who agreed to preserve the theater and redevelop the existing building, which was gutted by vandals after Bank of America closed the branch in 2011.

Construction on the redevelopment plan could start as soon as April, Cui said.