WEST LOOP — A West Loop alderman who often presses developers to set aside more units for low- and moderate-income residents than they are required by city ordinance now wants a developer to set aside affordable commercial space as well.
At a Plan Commission meeting Thursday, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) challenged developer Mark Goodman to make some retail space at a new office building in the West Loop affordable.
“We can’t keep any ma and pop retailers in this neighborhood because they can’t pay the rent,” Burnett said. “The community asked if you would consider having an affordable rent for a retailer in the community, and I don’t recall hearing anything about that.”
Burnett said rents in the West Loop have steadily risen to as much as $100 per square foot. Combined with the cost of taxes, insurance and water, local, lower-margin businesses are being pushed out, he said. Burnett cited now-closed restaurants like Honey’s, 1111 W. Lake St.; Pegasus, 130 S. Halsted St.; and Parthenon, 314 S. Halsted St., as proof.
Goodman told Burnett that the new 33,000-square-foot building at 310 N. Sangamon St. approved by the Plan Commission would offer rents for $60 per square foot — one-third cheaper than many of its neighbors. The 12-story building will feature 7,800 square feet of ground floor retail with office space above.
“We can try to bake something into the [planned development] statements,” Goodman said.
Burnett asked that an agreement to lock in that affordable rent be signed before the project heads to the city’s Zoning Committee Tuesday.
“I know it seems like a short time to try to do something, but it was a long time ago we had the community meeting and it doesn’t seem like you paid attention to it,” Burnett told him. “It seems like you ignored the request.”
Commissioner Fran Grossman sided with Burnett, and said she wanted to see City Council action on the matter.
“Is it possible to create a subsidy for minority or small business owners in a community?” Grossman said. “I think this is not an uncommon problem.”
“I applaud both the developer and the alderman for pushing it,” she continued. “If you want a neighborhood coffee shop rather than Starbucks, these are low margin businesses… they’re not making much money but they’re good businesses, is there a way we can think about using funds or ways of creating opportunities for small businesses and come up with some rules and regulations?”
Asked how the Department of Planning and Development responded to his idea, Burnett laughed.
“They said they were looking at it, but they’re procrastinating on it a little bit, that’s why I brought it out here to send them a message,” Burnett said.
Department spokesman Peter Strazzabosco said officials were working to address “the alderman’s and the community’s concerns.”
The development at 310 N. Sangamon St. will pay an estimated bonus fee of $2.4 million in exchange for added density. Approximately $1.9 million will go into the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, officials said.
The $120 million development will be “the largest Passive House commercial building in the U.S.,” a design that “creates comfort, circulates fresh air, and provides lots of natural light, while saving energy.