AVONDALE — Left to deteriorate for the better part of a decade, the Elston Ace Hardware will be razed in the coming weeks.
Replacing it is likely a mixed-use development with the backing of Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) and the Avondale Neighborhood Association. The four-story apartment building — the largest proposed in the ward since Mell took office in 2013 — will have affordable housing, plenty of parking and two ground-floor retail shops.
"I don't know about you, but I'm really tired of looking at the Ace Hardware," Mell told neighbors. "And I think this is going to revitalize that corner."
Although neighbors at a Wednesday community meeting still found flaws in the design, officials said the plan might be the best option for land at 2819 W. Belmont Ave. that has sat unused for seven years.
"If Ace Hardware wanted to build a new store there, they could have done it easily," project attorney Paul Kolpak said. "The fact that it stayed vacant that long says no one was coming in there."
Developers tweaked major aspects of the design in the past year of working with neighbors, hoping to gain their support for the project.
The building will be one story shorter than when developers first pitched their plans in May 2016. In a further effort to win over skeptics of the project, architects re-imagined the facade with a more traditional look to match its surroundings and moved the garage entrance to Belmont Avenue.
Lowering the building height meant sacrificing 1,300 square feet of commercial space and sent the 50-space parking garage halfway underground, Kolpak said. Forty-eight apartments remain of the originally proposed 56, and five will be affordable housing.
Remaining retail space will likely be parceled into units of 5,000 and 1,100 square feet, with a third unit operating as an on-site management office.
Renderings depict apartments with in-unit washers and dryers and balconies. Apartments will lease for between $1,500-$1,800 per month, developers said. Affordable units will likely cost $800-$1,000.
Fears remained that tenants would balk at paying extra for parking spaces and instead invade nearby residential blocks where parking is already scarce. Some said the Ace Hardware project signaled the need for a "grand plan" for future Avondale development, including Chuck Lomanto, a resident and retired chief of staff for Mell's father, former Ald. Richard Mell.
"We can't just go from one building to the next," Lomanto said. "Moving forward, what do you plan to ask developers to give the community so we're not unhappy with the parking situation that exists there?"
The intersection of Belmont, Elston and California is an epicenter of small business in Avondale. Bucket O' Blood Books and Records, Dragon Lady Lounge, Kuma's Corner and Jaiyen Sushi are fixtures at the corner, supplemented by newcomers Pisolino and DMen Tap.
The area is also in the midst of some major redevelopment, with condos half-built on the L-shaped lot between 2854 W. Belmont Ave. and 3224 N. Elston Ave. Across California Avenue, a developer racing to get his project off the ground ran into troubles with the alderman last week.
Customers of the two retail shops at the Ace Hardware site would also be on the hunt for parking, although some neighbors proposed zoned parking as a solution. Spaces not sold to residents could also be available for shoppers.
Others asked for some greenery along the facade, floating ideas for flower baskets or a living wall like the one found at the new Lakeview Whole Foods.
Long-time residents emphasized the need to promote the retail shops to potential tenants after several retail properties nearby converted to residential after going unleased.
With demolition starting in the next couple weeks, the project should be completed in late 2018, developers said.