The vacant Treasure Island retail space on Wells Street in Old Town. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

OLD TOWN — Developers planning to overhaul a series of properties in Old Town, including the vacant Treasure Island building, said the project could include a new grocer, construction on a parking lot and the elimination of two gas stations.

Nick Anderson, founder and president of Fern Hill, shared updates on the project Thursday during a virtual community meeting with Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).

Fern Hill is working with developer David Adjaye, known for projects like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to design a development entailing a few properties around 1600 N. LaSalle Drive.

The sites:

  • The BP Gas Station at 1647 N. LaSalle Drive.
  • The Shell Gas Station at 130 W. North Ave.
  • The Moody Church campus around 1635 N. LaSalle Drive.
  • The parking lot at North Avenue and LaSalle Drive.
  • The Walgreens at 1601 N. Wells St.
  • The vacant Treasure Island retail space on Wells Street.

Fern Hill owns both gas stations and the Treasure Island, Anderson said. Moody Church owns its campus and the surface parking lot, but has agreed to let Fern Hill build on the parking lot as part of the development.

Fern Hill is also in a tentative partnership with the Walgreens building owners that would transfer that lot’s air rights to the parking lot, allowing a taller residential tower to be built there.

BP Gas Station at 1647 N. LaSalle Drive (Archway Standard, 1971, G. Terp), part of the Moody Triangle, in Old Town on March 8, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shell Gas Station, 130 W. North Ave. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

In planning the project, Fern Hill has divided Old Town into two sections: the Old Town Triangle Historical District, spanning west of Wells Street, and the “cultural triangle” east of Wells Street, Anderson said.

The cultural includes institutions like the Moody Church, Chicago History Museum and Latin School of Chicago, but it has suffered from challenges including planning, land-use, traffic and safety concerns, Anderson said.

Fern Hills developers want to overhaul the “car-dominated environment” by making the area more walkable and removing the two gas stations, Anderson said.

“The gas stations pump roughly 2 million gallons of gas per year, and on average that’s about a quarter-million vehicle trips just between these two locations,” Anderson said. “So, yes, traffic is added by this new development, but it’s being subtracted by a quarter-million cars a year.”

Fern Hill also wants to “attract a world-class grocer back to” the Treasure Island building and transform it with a more historically contextual facade and possible glass storefront.

“Multiple parties are interested and … we hope in sharing this vision with the grocers, they understand they’re becoming part of a much more world-class project that’s not just back-filling a once-closed grocery store,” Anderson said.

A slide from Fern Hill’s Feb. 2, 2023, presentation shows possibilities for how the vacant Treasure Island grocery store could be transformed. Credit: Screenshot

In the historic triangle, Anderson wants to invite people who own buildings that are not landmarked but still architecturally significant to join his project by agreeing to transfer air rights to the parking lot construction, he said.

“Our goal is to work with each of these owners to find ways for them to join our project to leave their buildings intact,” Anderson said. “In working with us, we can decouple the economic motivation of an owner 50 years from now demolishing a building by working with us today to remove that economic incentive.”

A slide from Fern Hill’s Feb. 2, 2023, presentation shows ideas for how North Avenue and Clark Street could be more pedestrianized in Old Town. Credit: Screenshot

No formal plans have been drawn yet, but Fern Hill hopes to be able to present them by the end of spring, Anderson said. The company is taking a new approach to the planned development process that has included letting community members in on the conversation earlier than usual through two dozen meetings and a community engagement website where neighbors can review updates and comment their thoughts.

“This is far from a final proposal, and that is by design,” said Hopkins, who requested that Fern Hill take this approach. “Change is constant, but in a neighborhood like Old Town, we resist change that we don’t think is beneficial. There’s a long tradition of that, so it’s incumbent on this team to keep that in mind and earn your support.”

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: