LINCOLN PARK — Chicago may soon have a Lincoln Park "Cultural Mile" to go with its "Magnificent Mile" Downtown.
While still in the early community engagement stages, a plan to develop and revitalize Lincoln Avenue between Webster Avenue and Diversey Parkway is focusing on the area's theaters and music venues.
The area surrounding the Lincoln Avenue corridor includes 15 stages with almost 3,000 seats, said Kevin Clark, director of design at the Lakota Group, which is consulting on the plan.
Included in that area is the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln, where Clark led a community workshop on the plan attended by about 50 people Tuesday evening, as well as the Apollo Theater and music venues such as Lincoln Hall, Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S.
Clark proposed creating a Lincoln Avenue Cultural Mile or theater district to give a coherent theme to development and streetscape on the corridor.
"The true economic driver of Lincoln Park is the arts," said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who tentatively endorsed the Cultural Mile proposal. She said Lincoln Park has the second-largest collection of cultural institutions in the city after Downtown.
"The cultural aspects of it and the theater aspects of it and the history aspects of it are key," said Kenneth Dotson, president of the Lincoln Central Association and head of the Lincoln Avenue Special Service Area, which joined the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce in funding the Lakota Group studies and proposals. "To have a coherent identity for this corridor is important, so that people think of it as a destination, a place they want to go."
According to Clark, the process is still in the engagement phase, gathering community feedback before moving on to actual proposals for streetscape and traffic improvements and ultimately implementing them, which will take years.
"The reason this whole planning process started is we saw so many changes happening along Lincoln Avenue and there wasn't one group that was cohesively looking at it," said Kim Schilf, president of the Lincoln Park chamber. "We wanted to have a cohesive plan for Lincoln Avenue and not have it happen haphazardly."
Dotson said it was important to have a "cohesive identity for the strip," to make sure the finishing touches on the Children's Memorial and Elevate developments harmonize and don't "clash."
According to Clark, 20 percent of ground-floor retail business spaces are vacant along the corridor. But one-tenth of the area is undergoing active redevelopment over the next five years, bringing in 1,150 new residents and creating more than 200,000 new square feet of commercial space.
Clark said seemingly cosmetic changes would go deeper than that if tied together thematically along the corridor.
"The streetscape is pretty bland," he said. "There are street trees, [but] they haven't been maintained that much."
Clark also pointed to dangerous and inefficient traffic patterns for cars, bikes and pedestrians at all the major three-way intersections along the corridor. He cited Lincoln, Wrightwood and Sheffield avenues as "a particularly bad intersection," both in efficiency and aesthetics, saying, "That's what I see. Asphalt everywhere."
Clark said he believes improving traffic safety is key, with an emphasis to "prioritize pedestrians and bikes over cars."
Several times he compared the area to Andersonville as a model to emulate.
"We're hoping to have recommendations probably in January or February," Schilf said, with the idea to start implementing the initial proposals later next year.
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