HUMBOLDT PARK — For the last several months, locals have been fighting to keep Humboldt Park’s beloved Puerto Rican community center Casa Puertorriqueña out of the hands of luxury condo developers.
That battle came to an end Thursday when a judge approved the $1 million sale of the debt-ridden building to local nonprofit Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, the highest bidder.
Local residents cheered the decision because the nonprofit has said it will redevelop the site at 1237 N. California Ave. with the needs of the community at heart.
Paul Roldan, president of the nonprofit, told Block Club his team wants to convert the site into an affordable housing project with apartments geared toward families and seniors. Whether or not that will include a revamped community center is unclear.
“It’s an important question we need to figure out with the rest of the community,” Roldan said of the community center component.
Roldan said Thursday’s ruling sends an important message in gentrifying Humboldt Park.
“This is less about affordable housing developments, and more about trying to salvage a population of people who have been living in Humboldt Park for 30, 40 and 50 years,” he said.
The sale agreement was approved in court because the building’s parent — the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago — has been tangled up in bankruptcy court proceedings since last year.
According to bankruptcy court documents that stretch back to last fall, the committee owes just over $900,000 to various creditors. As such, the committee set out to sell its largest asset, the building that houses Casa Puertorriqueña, in an effort to pay off its debt.
The move to sell was met with fierce opposition from Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and others who feared a developer would swoop in and replace the beloved Puerto Rican hub with luxury condos or a similar project without getting any community input.
The committee is also under investigation by both the Chicago Police and the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office for financial misconduct, including claims that officials stole ticket money from this year’s parade.
Asked about the status of the investigation Friday, Eileen Boyce, spokeswoman for Madigan’s office, said only that the investigation is “ongoing.”
The drama didn’t scare away Roldan and his team.
“The building and what happens in the building is separate from whatever legal issues the committee has,” the nonprofit developer said. “The building is not connected to that.”
Redeveloping the Casa, as it’s commonly called, is just one piece of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation’s grand plans for the neighborhood.
Roldan said they’re currently under contract to buy the large vacant lot at California Avenue and Division Street and build 40 units of family housing there. A proposal to build a “co-living” apartment complex on the site fell through over the summer.
They’re also looking to build an 111-unit senior housing center on part of Roberto Clemente High School’s parking lot, Roldan said.