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What Would Landmark Status Mean For Uptown Square District? Council To Vote

By Josh McGhee | November 3, 2016 9:43am
 The structures in the Uptown Square District, which are clustered around Lawrence Avenue and Broadway, represent
The structures in the Uptown Square District, which are clustered around Lawrence Avenue and Broadway, represent "one of the best-surviving commercial and entertainment districts developed in Chicago in the early 20th Century," according to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially proposed the Uptown Square District to be granted Landmark Status at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The proposal would protect the exteriors of significant buildings in the neighborhood from alteration or demolition.

So what does that mean for the building owners?

Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, which works to protect historic places individually or by forming districts, said Uptown can learn a lot from the journey of Fulton Randolph Market, which was recently designated a landmark, which her team "did quite a lot of advocacy around."

In 2015, when the City of Chicago Landmark Commission officially made the recommendation for the Fulton Market designation, only five business consented. Of the remaining properties, 106 owners did not consent and 63 did not respond, the city said.

Despite opposition and a petition from business owners, the properties received landmark status from the city in July 2015.

Landmarks Illinois was "a long-time advocate of the need to have some kind of historic district" in Uptown and has worked for over a decade to secure it, said Dichiera.

"There was fear, as economic development was getting to be a reality after years of disinvestment, [that]some buildings could be" in danger, she said.

Buildings affected

The structures in the Uptown Square District, which are clustered around Lawrence Avenue and Broadway, represent "one of the best-surviving commercial and entertainment districts developed in Chicago in the early 20th Century," according to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, which recommended the designation.

The buildings, which are clad in terracotta, represent the architectural styles of Art Deco, Venetian Gothic and Spanish Baroque revival movements. The buildings' architects include Marshall and Fox, Rapp and Rapp, John Eberson, J.E.O. Pridemore, Walter Ahlschlager and Huszagh and Hill, according to the proposal.

"Unless these key buildings, which really describe the characteristics of the area, are protected, they could be in danger," DiChiara said. "There's plenty of others that are vulnerable if they don't increase" the area of designation as well.



Map of the Uptown Square Historic District [Courtesy of Uptown United]

Many of the properties are already on the National Register of Historic Places, which is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

That designation provides formal recognition of historical, architectural or archeological significance, adds it to a searchable database and encourages preservation by documenting its historical significance. Incentives include: federal preservation grants, federal investment tax credits, "international Building Code fire and life safety code alternatives" and possible state and tax benefit and grant opportunities depending on the state.

Success stories

The National Registry is "a great thing," but doesn't protect projects from demolition. "That's why this local landmark designation is so important," DiChiara said, adding the buildings are architecturally some of the most important outside of downtown.

It's a "key financing tool" that has been used to preserve the Virgin Hotel and Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, which are both listed on the National Registry and are Chicago landmarks as well, allowing owners to "layer" incentives including tax breaks for restoring them, she said.

Under the incentive, "owners can have their property tax assessment levels reduced for a 12-year period provided they invest at least half of the value of the landmark building in an approved rehabilitation project," according to the City of Chicago.

The city also offers to building fee waivers and is "working on guidelines for the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund." While the guidelines haven't been finalized, property owners would be eligible, she said.

Meeting resistance 

Similarly to the Randolph-Fulton Market, it's been hard to get a majority of the property owners on board in Uptown.

At a public hearing at City Hall in early September, officials said only 35 owners out of 66 returned forms regarding the landmark district. While 20 of the property owners were in favor of the landmark distinction, 15 were not, said Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner with the Department of Planning and Development.

Documents secured by DNAinfo through a Freedom of Information Act request contradict those totals. Those notes show that 19 properties consented to the landmark designations (one consent form was a duplicate) and 19 did not consent to the designation.

If entities that own more than one property and multiple owners of the same property are counted as a single vote, 14 of the properties were in favor and eight were not in favor, according to the forms provided by the Department of Planning and Development.

Taking sides

Heavy hitters in the property world have lined up on both sides.

Those in favor include: representatives from Uptown United; Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development David Reifman, who vouched for three properties; Cedar Street Co-Founder Alex Samoylovich, who represented four properties; Alternatives Inc., 4730 N. Sheridan Road; People's Church of Chicago, 941 W. Lawrence Ave.; Buddhist Temple of Chicago, 1151 W. Leland Ave.; and representatives of the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave.

Those who were against the designation include: representatives for Palm Realty Company, who represented six properties; the Broadway Clark Building Corporation, which represented the Broadway Building, in the 4700 block of North Broadway, and two nearby properties; Jerry Mickelson owner of the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave.; and the Federal Preservation Officer for the United States Postal Service representing the Uptown Post Office, 4850 N. Broadway.

"Our non-consent does not necessarily mean we oppose it, but is our standard response to these types of proposals since local designations do not apply to the Postal Service due to our federal entity status," said Dave Partenheimer, a spokesman for the U.S. Post Office.

Representatives from the Broadway Clark Building Corporation and the Riviera Theatre did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

At planning hearings, Anna Gallios, owner of 4520-70 N. Broadway, has repeatedly opposed the designation, saying, “there really is no tax benefit to us.”

Chiso Whang, of 4635 N. Broadway, also opposed the district because his building is "nothing special" and "not architecturally significant,“ he said.

The designation would “impede the progress of the neighborhood as a vibrant commercial district,” he said.

Director of Advocacy at Landmarks Illinois, Lisa DiChiera. [DNAinfo/Ted Cox]

The benefits outweigh the negatives and landmark districts stabilizes property values, DiChiera said, adding in the Fulton Market district, the properties are selling at maximum capacity.

In Nov. 2015, Tucker Development paid $52 million for 11 buildings in the district.

"I just think it is peoples' perception that historic districts add more bureaucracy," she said. "It just doesn't happen."

Final vote on the designation is scheduled for Nov. 9.

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