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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Congress Theater Renovation, 72-Unit Residential Building Get Green Light From Key City Panel

“This project is a model for what TIF should be used for,” Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said at the hearing.

Renderings of the new Congress Theater and neighboring development.
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LOGAN SQUARE — A plan to restore the Congress Theater to its former glory and build a seven-story, 72-unit building next to it got the green light Thursday from the Chicago Plan Commission.

The unanimous vote sends the project — which totals $95 million — to the City Council’s Zoning Committee, which could consider the proposal from developer Michael Moyer next month.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said he was very proud of the project in the heart of Logan Square.

“This is a gem that needs a lot of polishing,” Moreno told the commission, noting that the theater once generated negative “citywide and worldwide headlines” and once operated as if it was located in the “wild, wild west.”

Credit: Woodhouse Tinucci Architects
The $69 million Congress Theater renovation project includes a seven-story, 72-unit building in the heart of Logan Square.

The theater building itself would include shops, 14 apartments and a 50-room hotel. The property at 2117-63 N. Milwaukee Ave. is currently zoned B3-1 Community Shopping and C1-1 Neighborhood Commercial, and would be rezoned to B3-3 Community Shopping if the project is approved by the city’s Zoning Committee.

The shops in the theater building will be marketed to businesses owned by Chicagoans, according to the development plan.

In addition to all of the apartments in the theater building, the residential component will include 22 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units earmarked for low- and moderate-income residents — more than required by the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

A third of the affordable units will be set aside for residents earning no more than 50 percent of the area’s median income, which is $42,300 for a family of four. Another third will be set aside for those earning 60 percent of the area’s median income and the rest for those earning 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Moreno said two-bedroom apartments were added to the building at his request.

“This has taken a long time,” Moreno said.

In June, the city’s Community Development Commission unanimously approved $9.7 million in tax-increment financing for the project.

Moreno said the project merited funding from the area’s TIF district, which is designed to eradicate blight.

“This project is a model for what TIF should be used for,” Moreno said.

Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, praised the restoration of the former movie palace.

“It has been a long time coming,” Miller said.

The proposal was not without its challenges, however.

Moyer, the developer behind the project, has said the multi- million dollar restoration of the notoriously run-down theater would not be possible without the residential building. Some neighbors who oppose the residential building have charged that Moyer and Moreno are holding the theater renovation hostage.

Neighbors argue the building is too large and will add to what one resident described as a “Manhattan skyscraper” effect forming along Logan Square’s Milwaukee Avenue. Others took issue with its modern design and the fact that it doesn’t offer any family-sized three-bedroom apartments, which they say are desperately needed in the gentrifying neighborhood.

Commissioners also approved the $75 million redevelopment of the Uptown Theater, which is set to get $13 million from the area’s tax-increment financing district. Jam Productions and Farpoint are leading the renovations.

The developer wants to rezone the theater at 4812 N. Broadway from B3-3 and B3-5 Community Shopping Districts to a unified B3-5 and create an Entertainment Planned Development, which would increase the capacity of the theater to approximately 5,800 people, according to city officials.

The Plan Commission also approved a 17-story building with 318 units proposed for 808 N. Wells St. in the 27th Ward.

The $75 million project would include 6,300 square feet of shops, 16 vehicle parking spaces and 318 bicycle parking spaces — as permitted under the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance. The site would be rezoned to DX-7 Downtown Mixed Use.

Thirty-two of the rental units will be set aside for those earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income, which is $67,700 for a family of four, according to the proposal. All will be included on site

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said the affordable units would help address the area’s “affordability crunch.”

The development would also pay $3 million into the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund for permission to build more units than allowed under the current rules, officials said.

Originally, the property was to have been home to a 23-story building with 58 units and a 105-space garage. However, after slower than expected sales and the death of a company executive in 2016 doomed the plan.

Commissioners also endorsed a new master plan for the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center backed by Ald. John Arena (45th).

Arena said the plan — designed to address the “loss of [Jefferson Park’s] center” — provides for more dense development around the transit center, which includes several bus lines, a station on the CTA Blue Line as well as a Metra station.

“It will help Jefferson Park transition from a neighborhood of single-family homes and two flats,” Arena said, adding that 316 new units are set to be built near the transit center, which is currently undergoing a renovation.

The master plan will give Arena a framework to present to developers when they consider Jefferson Park for a development and help “herd the cats” who live in Jefferson Park.

“We’re in a good place,” Arena said. “It gives us direction.”

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