WICKER PARK — Challenging the developers of Wicker Park's only "big box" shopping mall, the creators of an online petition are urging that the spot be turned into "a hip urban park."
Home to Jewel grocery store, a forthcoming Lowe's and Pet Supplies Plus, among other shops, the Wicker Commons mall is just north of the Polish Triangle and around the corner from the CTA Blue Line Division "L" stop.
There are 624 parking spots in the mall lot, which runs along the 1200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue and the 1300 block of North Ashland Avenue.
Evelyn and Bart Wisniewski, a husband-and-wife team behind the "Give The Park a Name," want the owners of the mall to "transform" the decades-old parking lot, according to their petition, which had 170 signatures as of early Thursday.
"We need green space for relaxation and better connections with people," said Bart Wisniewski, who described the parking lot as "a suburban plan" and very different from shopping centers in Europe, where he is from.
“In Europe, we are able to form better pedestrian communities. It improves the quality of life and reduces crimes. If the urban landscape is so run down and ugly, it invites criminals in. This [Wicker] Commons is the door to Wicker Park. You exit the triangle [at Ashland/Milwaukee] and then you see the Commons, here you go," Bart Wisniewski said.
Though the petition was started last year, Wisniewski recently put a large banner up on the shopping mall's fence to advertise the initiative.
When asked how their idea would accommodate cars, since the parking lot is often packed with vehicles, Bart Wisniewski suggested building "a nicely designed parking structure above those big box stores," similar to what developer Centrum Partners built at the Roosevelt Collection, a South Loop Mall, he said.
Evelyn Wisniewski said the couple had a Toyota Prius hybrid but recently sold it.
"We're working on generating multiple design options to show all the possibilities for the site (including reaching out to [noted architectural firm] Studio Gang) and we hope to have this complete within a few months to show the public just how this design can work to free up green space,” she said.
Last year, Centrum Partners sold the 185,000-square-foot retail portion of the Wicker Commons to a German-based investor, Deutsche Bank, Crain's reported.
A Chicago-based official from Deutsche Bank and Centrum representatives did not respond to a request for comment on the petition on Wednesday. Deutsche Bank owns the majority of the mall, while Centrum Partners owns the upper-level units above the Milwaukee Avenue retail spots in the former Wieboldt's building.
The petition describes the parking lot as "a no man's land in the midst of an eclectic and unique neighborhood with world class architects and urban planners just steps away."
Erik Harmon, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber has not heard personally heard from the Wisniewskis but would need more details before weighing in.
"Broadly, the chamber is supportive of responsible development of the neighborhood and [further] greening," Harmon said.
Ed Tamminga, chairman of the Wicker Park Committee's Preservation and Development subcommittee, said his neighborhood group was not aware of the petition.
"Any proposal for any green space for any neighborhood is going to be received favorably. If it can get reaction, so much the better." But he added, "I don't think that [the developer] is in a position to spend a lot of money on an upper-level parking structure."
Wisniewski said he planned to bring the proposal to the Wicker Park Committee's April 19 meeting, where Centrum Partners will be discussing their current project, a 200-unit residential and retail complex near the Wicker Commons that incorporates a public park, green space and art into its design.
Representatives from the offices of Hopkins and Moreno were not immediately available for comment on the petition.
Bart Wisniewski studied architecture in the Netherlands and is a project manager at a Noble Square firm, Citizen Architects. Evelyn Wisniewski studied landscape architecture at IIT.
Bart Wisniewski said that if given the opportunity, he would be willing to help redesign the parking lot pro bono, without charge.
“Let people imagine what this could be," Wisniewski said.
A view of the parking lot. [Bart Wisniewski]
Wicker Commons Site [Bart Wisniewski]
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