Community hears plans for former Bank of America site; Aldi’s among proposed businesses, TIF subsidies sought


by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKi

The majority of the more than 60 residents who attended a community meeting held by Alderman John Arena (45th) on March 11 support plans to bringing a fitness center, an Aldi’s grocery store, a Starbucks coffee shop and other retailers to the 4900 block of West Irving Park Road.

The developer plans to open the Retro Fitness center and the Aldi’s on the first floor in the former Bank of America building, 4901 W. Irving Park Road, while the Starbucks, possibly with a drive-through facility, would open on the site of a former tire shop at 4939 W. Irving Park Road.

The tire center site is just outside the "pedestrian street" zoning district in the area that prohibits drive-through facilities. A part of the plan is to preserve a 300-seat theater on the second floor of the bank building.

The project, which would cost $15.5 million to $16 million project, relies on $2.5 million in subsidies from the Portage Park Tax Increment Financing District. According to plans, the project would be on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, which means that investors won’t get paid until the project is completed and only to the extent that the businesses are performing.

Michael Laube, a tax increment financing consultant, said that the project would generate about $3 million in retail taxes and more $543,000 in property taxes in the next 10 years and that it would create 75 to 100 construction jobs and 100 to 150 full-time retail jobs. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall, and tenants are expected to move in next.

Other tenants that have expressed interest in the site are Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Culver’s, Panera Bread, Verizon Wireless and ATI Physical Therapy.

Members of the development team put together by attorney Charles Cui, who is has a contract to purchase the bank building from the owner of Cermak Fresh Market, gave a presentation at the meeting.

The movie theater requires major renovation including a new roof, new mechanical and electrical systems, stage and bathroom reconfiguration, and two new elevators. The bank building needs a complete rehabilitation due to its age and longtime vacancy, a leaking roof and flooding.

The former bank also needs a new roof, new parking, landscaping and electrical and mechanical systems, five elevators, new windows and a new facade. The tire shop has environmental contamination, and it will be torn down.

The project would require a zoning change because the 260-space parking lot at the rear of the site is zoned for residential use. The alley behind the bank building would be eliminated to expand the parking lot to create a plaza near the entrance of the store and the fitness center.

Attorney Tom Moore said that the parking lot is zoned R-3 and that it would have to be changed to B1-1 for the project.

Some residents expressed concern about the increased traffic and how the new businesses would affect other businesses in the Six Corner shopping district.

David Bossy of Mid America Real Estate Group said that without public funding it would not be possible to borrow money to fund the project. "The cost is what made us redevelop this," Bossy said.

Some residents said that the developer should seek a Trader Joe’s rather than the Aldi’s because they would not shop at the discount grocery store.

Bossy said that Trader Joe’s is not interested and that Aldi’s has been pursuing a development on the site for some time. The current proposal is the second time in 4 years that Aldi’s has considered opening a grocery store on the first floor.

"If someone will not speak up for Aldi, then I will," a resident said. "I have put my culinary preferences aside to feed my family. Low-income families shop there, but they also provide jobs and it will be a good addition to our neighborhood."

Arena said that that area of the ward "qualifies as a food desert" because of a lack of grocery stores. He said that people have a "perception problem with Aldi’s, and they have made strides in bringing better quality food it its stores."

Arena said that the developer originally asked to use about $4.5 million in tax increment financing funds.

"We did due diligence, and we asked if they really needed that much money, but we pushed them down," Arena said. "You are not investing here in just an Aldi’s, but a whole city block that will bring in business to Six Corners."

Arena said that TIF funds from the district have been used on smaller projects in the ward "but now we have a chance and an opportunity to do something on a bigger scale. We invest in little projects, but now it’s time to pursue something bigger."

Some residents said that they did not see the draw of a small local theater, but Arena has always maintained the need to preserve theaters in the ward. Arena’s economic development director Anthony Alfano said that he was not sure if one nonprofit group or several groups would manage the theater.

Six Corners Association president Gale Fabisch said that he was excited about the project because it would eliminate a parcel of land that has remained vacant for years.

"We can’t pretend that we have 100 entrepreneurs who want to come here into Six Corners," Fabisch said. "There have been no other ideas to be here. This is a very neighborhood-friendly project."

"We do have a problem with vacant properties, but Aldi’s puts even some Jewels to shame, and I challenge people to take a new look at Aldi’s," Arena said.

Arena said that to address traffic issues he would look into installing speed bumps and other traffic improvements.


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