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Proposed Wicker Hotel's Look Still Too 'Suburban,' Alderman Says

By Alisa Hauser | April 3, 2017 3:56pm
 A rendering of a 99-room hotel planned for 1551 W. North Ave.
A rendering of a 99-room hotel planned for 1551 W. North Ave.
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Ronald Vari (Rendering)

WICKER PARK —  A City Council vote on a zoning change for a proposed 99-room hotel at the North and Ashland avenues intersection was tabled by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) because he wants to see a better exterior and "greater curb appeal."

"We requested one final round of aesthetic improvements," Hopkins said on Monday. "It still doesn’t look like it is at home in Wicker Park and Noble Square. It looks more suburban and we are trying to get away from that."

Scheduled to have been voted on by the full City Council last week, the zoning change was requested by George Nediyakalayil, who plans to demolish a Shell gas station he owns at 1551 W. North Ave. and develop the hotel there.

In February, the zoning change was approved by the city's Plan Commission, the final hurdle before a full City Council vote.

Renderings by architect Ronald Vari show an eight-story, 99-room hotel with 36 parking spaces.

Vari previously changed the hotel's exterior materials, with concrete replaced by metal and glass.

Hopkins said that even with the second tweak by Vari to upgrade materials and "get away from from precast concrete," the design was not quite right.

Nediyakalayil did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the setback, nor did Vari.

Nediyakalayil previously told Hopkins he'd signed a letter of intent with Hyatt, which would be the hotel's brand.

Hopkins said on Monday that he notified Hyatt officials about the design requests.

"Hyatt remains committed to the project. Obviously Hyatt wants their branded facilities to look as attractive as they can look," Hopkins said.

Stephanie Sheppard, a Hyatt spokeswoman, declined to comment.

"Hyatt will continue to pursue opportunities to grow our brand presence in places where our guests are traveling, including Chicago. That said, we do not comment on projects until formal agreements are in place," Sheppard said.

Hopkins said he recognizes the uniqueness of "the purely aesthetic request." 

"What we are asking them to do is produce a structure that will generate more positive reviews from neighbors. It's a bit of a challenge, which is why I suggested they meet with several members of the [city] planning department staff, some of whom are architects."

He added that he is not seeking density and size changes but "we want to make it look a little bit better and with greater curb appeal — it’s still just not an attractive building by most people’s standards."

Once there is a new design, Hopkins said he will publish renderings on his website and people will be invited to offer feedback.

The hotel plan for 1551 W. North Ave. was first pitched to residents in August 2015 and tweaked several times over a series of community meetings — the most recent hosted by Hopkins last summer.

When the project was introduced, Mark Kupiec, a zoning attorney representing Nediyakalayil, told a gathering of residents that "a gas station has become a tough business, especially in this neighborhood."

Kupiec said that a rise in young families moving into the area has brought more friends and family who live out of town to visit who would rather stay at a local hotel than Downtown.

"We think [there's] more of a demand for hotels in the neighborhood than there was years back," Kupiec said.

The proposed hotel would be a few blocks south of Walsh Park, at the eastern end of the 2.7-mile-long Bloomingdale Trail that extends west to Bucktown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park.

The intersection is also about a half-mile east of Wicker Park's main hub, where the Northwest Tower and an adjacent building recently were transformed into the Robey and the Hollander, a pair of boutique hotels offering 89 rooms, with 20 of those in a shared-stay hostel setting.