Seafood plans unveiled
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Residents who attended a community meeting on June 24 were receptive to plans to open a Seafood City Supermarket at 5033 N. Elston Ave. to replace the Kmart department store that is closing in August despite some concerns about parking lot congestion and the possibility of traffic spilling onto residential streets.
Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) held the meeting at the Mayfair Library, 4400 W. Lawrence Ave., with Seafood City officials, an architect and a representative of a real estate development and consulting firm that is working with the company.
The grocery store chain, which specializes in Filipino and other Asian grocery products, has more than 20 stores in California, Nevada, Hawaii and Washington. The store on Elston will be its first in the Midwest.
The supermarket features seafood, meat departments, produce, bakery, health and beauty products, "as well as American products that one would normally find in any supermarket," according to the company’s Web site.
Tom Lowe of First Equity Group, which is consulting with Seafood City, said at the meeting that the family-owned company opened its first store in San Diego in 1989. "This will be the first store in Chicago," Lowe said. "A lot of studies and research went into where, and this was the number one choice for various reasons."
"I think that visibility and access and the density were a part of selecting the area," Lowe said. "Also, the Filipino demographic was part of the selection process because it’s well represented here.
"This concept has been very popular on the East Coast, and I think that there will be a big draw for it here. It will be accessible, there will be signs posted and it’s a great structure to work with."
Lowe said that Seafood City will occupy half of the 87,000 square feet and employ 250 people. The other half of the building will be leased to other retailers that are yet to be determined.
Lowe said that the Kmart building will be used, but that a portion of it will be torn down. "It will be a significant change from what you see there today," he said.
Seafood City manager of property and store development Rey Lacson said that the store will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Lacson said that the large Asian population in the area is was a big reason for opening the store on the Northwest Side.
Architect Peter Theodore of the firm Camburas and Theodore said that the current Kmart building is a vintage building that was a Venture store until 1998. "Not a lot has happened to it since then," Theodore said.
Theodore said that he originally wanted to strip the building and start from scratch, but that was too expensive. However, he said that only the roof and the rear wall will remain intact and everything else will be newly constructed.
The architecture firm specializes in projects for Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, Starbucks, T.J. Maxx and other stores.
"A lot of retailers would come into a store like this and throw a fresh coat of paint on it and add a few windows here and there, but Seafood City said that that they didn’t want to put a Band-aid on it and if we’re going to do it we want to do it right," Theodore said. "My goal was to look at the glass and the retail architecture and create the visibility and the likeness, the airiness that you see in the other areas of the city."
Theodore said that he used corrugated metal, brick and wood in the design of the store and that activity in the store will be seen from the parking lot and from the street.
Theodore said that the most important issue when designing the project was the function of the store as it relates to architecture. He said Seafood City is not using the site as the main retailer but rather as an anchor for other tenants.
"It’s going to provide you with services and needs that are not currently being facilitated such as a market where you can buy fresh fish, have that fish prepared while you are shopping," Theodore said. "You will get a presentation that is unique in the Chicago market from the standpoint that very few people do fish the way that Seafood City does. They fly in their fish fresh, and the fish is on tables where you can see it and the assortment of fish is incredible."
Lowe said that work on the store will begin in the fall and that it will open in the spring.
Residents at the meeting expressed concern that traffic to spill onto Keating Avenue, a residential street, about issues with turning onto Elston Avenue from the parking lot, parking issues and what kind of tenants would lease space there.
"I have a fairly extensive list of businesses that I don’t want there," Laurino said. She said that mid-sized stores such as a smaller Walgreens or a Chipotle would certainly be welcome. "I’m not suggesting that those are one of them, I just want to give you a sense of what might go in there," Laurino said.
The Kmart, which opened in 1998, is scheduled to close by Aug. 23, and it is currently having a liquidation sale. Sears Holding Company, the parent company of Kmart, has been closing many low-performing stores in the country.
Lowe said that rumors about the possibility of a theater as a tenant are just rumors. "We haven’t had a discussion with a theater," he said.
The parking lot on the site can be accessed from Keating Avenue or Elston Avenue. Laurino’s father, former alderman Anthony Laurino, held several meetings with residents to discuss their traffic concerns before the Venture was constructed about 25 years ago.
Theodore said that that the primary access to the parking lot will be from Elston and that he does not expect traffic to use Keating because the site has a large parking lot. "We looked at what happened with Kmart during the holidays, and I would see no reason why people would be going into the neighborhood when they want to leave," he said.
No zoning change will be required for the project, and no additional driveways are planned for the plaza,
"We’re delighted that they are here," Laurino said. "They will be wonderful neighbors. It’s not a big corporation, and this is a family-owned operation and they will be a part of the local community."
"They certainly addressed my issues with traffic, parking and the look of the building and hours," Laurino said. "They’ve been delightful to work with."
Also in the area, the long-delayed Thai Town Center on the former site of the 17th (Albany Park) District police station, 4461 N. Pulaski Road, opened its doors on July 3 as the Taste of Thai Town, according to owner Arun Sampanthavivat.
"It’s been a long and painstaking four years, but we have opened to the public on July 3," Sampanthavivat said. The center will feature a restaurant, a spa, a wellness center and office space. The project received funds from the Lawrence-Pulaski Tax Increment Financing District.
"This will be an accessible restaurant, and it will be causal dining, unlike my other restaurant," Sampanthavivat said. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner will be served from 5 to 10 p.m.
The old station, which was built in 1938, has been closed since the new 17th District station, 4650 N. Pulaski Road, opened in 2005. Plans to open the center have been in the works since 2011, but delays with funding and construction delayed the project.