PORTAGE PARK — What should be built at the site of the former Sears in the heart of Portage Park’s Six Corners?
That question was the main event Wednesday night when more than 120 community members spent about three hours discussing what they want.
Developers have floated the idea of a building a movie theater and gym, with retail and housing included. Some neighbors supported that Wednesday, but they didn’t stop there.
A pool. An underground pedway. A green rooftop. An arcade. Preserving the Art Deco design of the Sears. A public park.
“This is the largest parcel on the Northwest Side that has an opportunity for development of this scale in my 25 years living in the neighborhood,” Ald. John Arena (45th) said.
The standing room only meeting was hosted inside the former Sears Auto Center at 4035 N. Cicero Ave. and was co-hosted by Six Corners Association and Arena’s office. Residents were invited to the meeting to share their thoughts on what they would like to see built at the former Sears with developers Seritage Growth Properties and Tucker Development Corp.
“This is an entire city block that we’re sitting in the middle of,” Arena said. “One of the things you see all the time is developers develop plans and then present them to the community, and then we’re trying to figure out if it’s right or wrong. What was the developer thinking?”
Arena said Wednesday’s meeting aimed to let developers get an insight into the community’s past experiences with what Six Corners has been while also letting them share what they’d like to see built at the former Sears moving forward.
“With the number of people that we have here tonight we’re going to be able to aggregate in a coherent way what the community is looking for,” Arena said. “What are the things we’d like to see in this particular development that could help inform [Seritage and Tucker] as they are putting pencil to paper.”
In July, the Sears at Six Corners, which originally opened in 1938, sold off the last of its inventory and fixtures. Not long after a crew removed the building’s sign.
In June, a listing by CBRE Group, Inc., a Los Angeles-based commercial real estate and investment firm, began advertising the property at 4730 W. Irving Park Rd. as having a total of 161,549 square feet set aside for retail, 556 residential units, 870 parking spaces and 266 spots for bicycles.
The listing also said developers wanted to have the former Sears house a movie theater and gym. Arena said the plans in the listing were premature without community input and the listing has since been taken down.
“This is an invaluable experience for us and invaluable feedback we’re going to receive,” said Aaron Tucker, chief investment officer with Tucker Development. “Tucker Development was founded in 1996 and we were founded mostly as a retail developer. Over the last 20 plus years we’ve shifted towards being mixed use developers, really focused on a sense of place and what communities want from our developments. And that’s what tonight is all about.”
To gather the community’s input the meeting was facilitated by Ellen Shepard, CEO of Community Allies, a firm using “radical inclusion” as its guiding principle when facilitating community discussions like the one that happened Wednesday.
“Community Allies is focused on equitable community development and engagement,” Shepard said. “Radical inclusion means everyone in the community gets involved in the future of that neighborhood.”
The overall question posed to people at the meeting was: What excites you most about what this site could mean for Six Corners?
Using a “world café” format, this question was discussed through the lens of more narrow topics like height density, business use, parking, walkability, housing, placemaking and the environment. Each table at the meeting was focused on one of those topics and people at the meeting were asked to work in small groups in three 20 minute sessions to have discussions focused on what could be built at the former Sears.
Each table had a “host” which moderated the discussion and took notes on what people at the table agreed they wanted to see happen at the former Sears. These notes were presented at the end of the meeting.
“Tonight, to witness how engaged people are in the community and to see how this room is jammed full of people is amazing,” Shepard said.
By the end of the night some of the ideas residents came up with included wanting an arcade, a pool, a green rooftop, preserving the building’s Art Deco design, a public park and even an underground pedway called the “speakeasy pathway” using rumored bootlegging tunnels in the neighborhood near the former Sears. Some residents also expressed support for the initial plan developers had advertised back in June — which included a movie theater, gym, housing and parking lot.
The tables with the largest crowd during the three sessions were the ones focused on business use and housing. Below are some of the reports table hosts gave to the audience at the end of the meeting.
Community Allies will be processing the information collected from the three hour meeting and presenting a more detailed analysis of what was discussed at each table to Arena’s office and the developers in the coming weeks, Shepard said.
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