EDGEWATER — Could holding events and classes at the long-vacant former auto showroom along Ridge Avenue help spark development on the busy roadway and "bring together two sides of the neighborhood?"
That's what Alexis Leverenz, the new leaseholder for 5757 N. Ridge Ave., is hoping a Public Place of Amusement license and support from the community will make happen at the 1920's-era building.
Leverenz and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), met with about 20 Edgewater neighbors Tuesday night, along with Leverenz' lawyer and the property's owner, to share more details about the potential future use of the space, which has struggled to find a tenant for years.
Now, Leverenz is hoping to pick up where former developers left off in transforming the 12,000-square-foot former garage into a place that could be used for activities open to the public and gatherings on weekdays, and private events such as weddings and bat mitvahs on weekends.
"I kept driving down this road and looking at this building and craning my neck to try and figure out what was going to be here," Leverenz, who also owns Kitchen Chicago in the West Loop, said. "I thought, 'I've got to call on it at least.'"
"I loved it — it's a beautiful, amazing, unique space that I think should be enjoyed by people."
(Story continues below)Alexis Leverenz speaks before a crowd of Edgewater residents Tuesday night inside the building at 5757 N. Ridge Ave. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
However, to put those plans in action may require a zoning change for the building, which sits at the northeast corner of Ridge and Glenwood avenues, from its current B-1 status, which allows for venues, up to a B-3 classification, which banquet halls need. Regardless, the building's capacity would cap at 149 people.
Osterman said he and Leverenz' team would be meeting with the city to determine the proper zoning in the coming weeks. After that, the business owners can seek the amusement license.
Sunday through Thursday, though exact plans aren't yet fleshed out for what could take place in the building, Leverenz said she was open to community and civic groups, as well as group classes like yoga, to utilize the space.
Osterman suggested a neighborhood advisory board be set up to help connect with Leverenz with partnerships in the area, as well as provide a stream of feedback throughout the process.
During bigger events on Fridays and Saturdays, Leverenz said users would be allowed to occupy the venue between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m., with events ending at midnight. The space would close earlier on Sundays and weekdays.
Sixty parking spaces would tentatively be set aside at nearby Peirce Elementary School, Leverenz said. Though her team is still waiting to hear back from the city on what, if any, zoning changes are necessary, the school has said it would lease its lot for larger weekend events, she said. Six spaces would be available on-site for vendors to use.
For many years, the decorated, but deteriorating, building was incorrectly rumored to have been a former movie house built by silent film star Charlie Chaplain, however, it was actually built as an auto showroom in 1922, according to the Edgewater Historical Society.
It's been a "beautiful, but challenging" property over the years, Osterman said.
"I'm going to do everything I can possibly do in my power to be a good neighbor," Leverenz said. "I do think that we will offer a lot of things the neighborhood and public can participate in that I hope will be of value to somebody."
Leverenz said she would do little to the building's previously renovated and recognizable exterior but add a sign and possibly a bike rack, though she said she would slightly move its dramatic interior spiral staircase so it no longer consumed the middle of the first floor.
Some of the meeting's attendees said they were concerned with potential noise, gridlock traffic on Ridge and event guests taking up neighborhood parking spots, while others said they hoped the development could "bring together two sides of the neighborhood" on both sides of Ridge.
Osterman said he would keep residents updated on news regarding the zoning, licensure and use, and that another community meeting may take place in the future.
Leverenz has already received a permit to renovate the space, which would see a target opening some time in 2018.
Once zoning and licensing is hammered out with the city, her team said construction would begin shortly after and take about four to five months, she said.
Photos by DNAinfo/Linze Rice.