Interior of the Chicago Landmark Laramie State Bank Building in Chicago's Austin neighborhood; June 2021. Credit: Provided

AUSTIN — In the coming years, the iconic Laramie State Bank building will be transformed into a museum, a business incubator and a café.

But before that can begin, the building needs emergency repairs to protect its historical architecture from weather damage and deterioration from years of deferred maintenance.

The redevelopment of Laramie State Bank, 5200 W. Chicago Ave., is meant to be an anchor for public and private investment in Austin as part of the Mayor’s Invest South/West initiative. The $37.5 million plan, led by Oak Park Regional Housing and Heartland Alliance, will preserve the vacant building while rehabbing it to suit the needs of the neighborhoods.

But the building has been unused since it was foreclosed in 2012, and its interior has extensive water damage that has destroyed most ceilings, walls and floors, and it is littered with debris.

To make way for the development, a Cook County judge ordered an emergency stabilization project on the 92-year-old building in October.

The court appointed an asset management company, CNR Advisors, to complete the repairs and prevent losses in property value and negative impacts to the neighborhood. The work will cost $500,000, which will be funded with revenues from the Austin Commercial Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District.

The stabilization project will repair and replace the building’s roof and support trusses and create a weather-tight building envelope. The stabilization will also repair loose masonry, install a water draining system, clean up debris and remove unfixable parts of the building, like rooftop HVAC equipment and the chimney.

Historical materials will be salvaged as much as possible, city officials said.

The Laramie State Bank redevelopment site in the Austin neighborhood March 12, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

“The Laramie Bank building is a Chicago treasure,” said Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development. “The stabilization work will prepare the building for winter and ensure it remains a West Side icon for generations to come.”  

Though the stabilization work needed to preserve the building is extensive, it is not expected to make the Laramie State Bank redevelopment any less viable, said Athena Williams, executive director of Oak Park Regional Housing. The repairs will give developers a clean slate for when they start renovating the bank building into a bank, café and museum dedicated to Chicago’s blues history, she said.

“Being a developer, you expect challenges. Sometimes, the bigger the challenge, the better the project,” Williams said.

Rendering for the proposed redevelopment of the Laramie State Bank. Credit: Provided

Redevelopment plans include several lots surrounding the old bank building, which will be developed into 72 units of mixed-income housing. There will also be a courtyard between the bank building and the housing complex that will include a community plaza, gardens and public art installations, developers said.

Despite many deferred maintenance issues, the former bank’s art deco architecture and long history in the area has made it a designated Chicago landmark since 1995. The bank’s exterior features an Egyptian-style design with yellow and cream-colored terra cotta details on the facade.

“There is literally nothing like it anywhere else in Chicago. … It will be a fitting anchor to the evolving soul city corridor,” Cox said.

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