City seeks bids for new plazas


by BRIAN NADIG

The city Department of Transportation has sought proposals to turn 49 underutilized city-owned parcels into public plazas, including a site near the Jefferson Park Metra station and a portion of the Read-Dunning site near Irving Park Road and Neenah Avenue.

In its request for proposals, the department asks for plans to make the parcels "become active spaces that reflect the unique and dynamic cultures of Chicago neighborhoods." The project is part of the "Chicago Cultural Plan," which Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events created in 2012 in an effort to guide future cultural and economic growth in the city.

Respondents were expected to include description of how they would improve the parcels and what type of cultural programming they would bring to the plazas. To pay for the maintenance of the properties and the programming, advertising and retail vendors may be allowed on the sites, and sponsors could be sought.

"I think this is a way to raise revenue by not raising property taxes and to close that budget gap," Alderman Timothy Cullerton (38th) said of the initiative. The department wants 10 new plazas to be activated each year, including one plaza in each of the city’s six planning districts.
One of Northwest Side locations is a triangular parcel that runs along the Kennedy Expressway east of the Jefferson Park Metra station near Argyle Street and Long Avenue. The approximately 21,000-square-foot site contains grass and trees.

The plaza would be across Argyle Street from the former storage yard for Cowhey Materials and Fuel Company, 5342 W. Argyle St., which the department mistakenly identifies as the proposed plaza site in its request for proposals. A developer had planned to build seven single-family homes on the former Cowhey site but now is seeking to build an apartment complex there.

The other Northwest Side plaza would be on a 17,860-square-foot grassy parcel on the north side of the 6500 block of West Irving Park Road that was once used as a CTA bus turnaround. At one tine the parcel was sought for a parking lot for an adjoining condominium complex, but the city would not sell the property, Cullerton said.

A restrictive covenant on the property could prohibit billboards and some other types of private use on the property, Cullerton said. The parcel was once part of the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center campus, which over the years the city has allowed sections to be redeveloped for public, residential and industrial uses.

Plaza proposals were due to the city on Sept. 30.


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