Restaurants part of revitalization of Jefferson Park
by BRIAN NADIG
The revitalization of the Jefferson Park business district would have to rely on the opening of more restaurants and those retailers offering an experience such as cooking classes due to the increasing popularity of online shopping.
That was the consensus of the 30 residents in a breakout session on economic development at an Oct. 16 community meeting on the formation of a master plan for Jefferson Park. Nearly all of the residents raised their hand when asked if they have an Amazon Prime account for their online shopping needs.
The $120,000 plan, which is being funded mostly from by the Regional Transportation Authority, focuses on improving access to the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave., and revitalizing the surrounding commercial area. Another community meeting is planned in the winter.
Several residents said that the area could use a large indoor family entertainment center like the recently opened Plan and Spin, 7631 N. Caldwell Ave., Niles.
Valerie Kretchmer, a real estate consultant for the master plan, said that commercial rents in Jefferson Park are "pretty reasonable" and do not seem to be a deterrent to the opening of new businesses.
"What we’ve heard is there’s some landlords not interested in (leasing)," Kretchmer said. Some area storefronts have been vacant for about 20 years.
One resident said that a Trader Joe’s grocery store would be a perfect fit for Jefferson Park, but the retailer is not doing a lot of expansion in the Chicago market, according to Kretchmer.
Additional suggestions included live/work spaces for artists or storefronts shared by multiple businesses, while others said that the U.S. Postal Service’s sorting center at 4810 N. Milwaukee Ave. should be replaced with stores given that the building is in the heart of the business district.
The former Woolworth’s building at 4813 N. Milwaukee Ave. and the former firehouse at 4835 N. Lipps Ave., both of which are vacant, may lend themselves to creative redevelopment opportunities due to their unusual character and design, Kretchmer said. A couple of floors could be added to the two-story firehouse, which the city is trying to sell, she said.
Better times for the business district may not be that far away, Kretchmer said. "Things are moving up on Milwaukee. You’re next," she said. "You guys have disposable income here. That’s not the problem."
Alderman John Arena (45th) said that master plan would serve as a long-term guide on how to improve the area.
"This is all about what we want to see in 10 years," he said.
Also at the meeting, residents were asked to give input on a variety of ideas which project consultants have previously received. They included recommendations for a commuter drop-off area at the terminal and a shared parking lot which also could be used as a public plaza.
Some residents said that the meeting lacked a discussion about density, including zoning recommendations for the area. Currently there are plans to add more than 300 new apartments near the terminal, with additional projects in the works.
About 8 years ago another attempt at a master plan for Jefferson Park failed to gain the approval of the Chicago Plan Commission due to community opposition. It called for more than 1,000 new residential units near the terminal.