New chamber with economic development focus forms at 6 Corners

by BRIAN NADIG

A group of merchants in the Six Corners shopping district is forming a new chamber of commerce to serve what group organizers are calling "a new independent voice for business in the neighborhood."

The Six Corners Chamber of Commerce will hold its first meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Las Tablas Steakhouse, 4920 W. Irving Park Road.

The chamber’s founder is Joe Angelastri, the owner of City Newsstand, 4018 N. Cicero Ave., and one of the founders of the Six Corners Association. The association has been serving the business district since 2002, but Angelastri said that the commercial area needs a stronger focus on economic development.

Items on the agenda will include a discussion of the redevelopment of the former Bank of America site at 4747 W. Irving Park Road and the Sears Department Store, 4730 W. Irving Road. While Sears is open, the building is for lease.

The chamber plans to issue a 5-year progress report on the Six Corners Master Plan, which calls for a building of up to five stories on the bank site and identifies other potential redevelopment sites.

The agenda also includes a discussion on the area’s parking challenges, as the current $2 per hour meter rate is too high and scares off potential customers, Angelastri said. Some local business owners have expressed concern about the removal of 92 on-street parking spaces to accommodate new bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue between Addison Street and Irving Park Road, he said.

For the past dozen years the association has been the service provider for a local taxing body, the Six Corners Special Service Area. The service area covers an approximately two-block radius around the intersection of Milwaukee and Cicero avenues and Irving Park Road.

In 2015, Angelastri objected to a plan to raise the service area’s tax rate in an effort to generate an additional $62,000 in funds, increasing the budget from about $226,000 to $288,000. At the time Angelastri said that the association should not become too reliant on property taxes and that other successful service areas have kept their tax rates low.

At a community meeting on the proposed tax hike, which was approved, some business owners questioned the need for the association to spend $117,000 on landscaping and other public way improvements and said that the association should focus on getting empty storefronts filled in order to generate more foot traffic in the shopping district.

"How much the SSA tax is really costing you?" will be one of the topics discussed at the chamber’s meeting, Angelastri said.

In a statement, Alderman John Arena (45th) said that while he respects the contributions which Angelastri has made to the area, there is not a need for a second business organization at Six Corners.

The association "continues to be an excellent partner in the revitalization of the Six Corners shopping district" and that "all stakeholders, old and new, (should) continue to work together to sustain the momentum built over the years," the statement said, listing Community Tavern, Binny’s Beverage Depot and Retro Fitness as some of the new businesses that have opened in recent years.

The board of directors for the association issued the following: "In 2018 we will welcome Culver’s, District Bath and Body, Elly’s Pancakes, Fischman’s and Starbucks to the district. Additionally, we will launch a Main Street-focused economic vitality initiative that includes a security camera rebate program, a facade enhancement grant program and property owner toolkit to secure and further reduce vacant storefronts.

"Six Corners association stands committed to providing individualized service to our business and property owners and advocacy that aids in the elevation, growth and prosperity of the Six Corners community. We invite our stakeholders to partner with us in these endeavors."

The association was formed to create a stronger focus on Six Corners, as some business owners had expressed concern that the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce covered too large of an area.