PORTAGE PARK — Plans for the old Sears building that once anchored the busy Six Corners intersection were revealed to neighbors Tuesday night, with developers saying they plan to save the 81-year-old Art Deco building, scrap a planned movie theater and pay into a fund to avoid having to build the required amount of affordable housing on site.
Nearly 200 residents came to the auditorium at Carl Schurz High School Tuesday night for the project’s big reveal, which has been up in the air for years. The neighborhood elected a new alderman this year, further clouding what would become of the site.
That alderman, Jim Gardiner (45th), said he’s excited about the latest plan because it could be “a shot in the arm” for the business district. But he indicated it could use some tweaking. Some of the neighbors at the meeting said they were disappointed the developer isn’t building more affordable housing units on site.
The developers, Seritage Growth Properties and Tucker Development Corp., said Tuesday they want to preserve the old Sears — including its street-facing facade — and add onto it. A second building near the intersection, the old Sears Auto building, will be torn down and replaced with a 10-story building.
Under plans, 434 total units would be built between the two buildings, including 13 townhomes at the site of the old auto building.
The Sears building at 4730 W. Irving Park Road will be saved and modified to include 100,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor. That space would be divided by different businesses, the largest of which will be a full service health club.
The remaining floors in the renovated building will house 133 apartments. The facade that faces the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Irving Park Road and Cicero Avenue would be preserved, something residents had previously asked of the developers.
Meanwhile, the new 10-story building where the Auto building now stands at 4035 N. Cicero Ave. would have 288 apartments and 13 townhomes. The townhomes would each have a two-car garage.
A total of 790 parking spaces are being proposed for the two buildings, some of which will be put into a garage in the new building.
Plans also include a pool and an outdoor green space between the two buildings that can be used for music festivals and farmers markets, developers said.
Richard H. Tucker, CEO at Tucker Development, said a previous version of the plans also included a movie theater but due to the uncertain future of that industry they scrapped it.
All of the housing will be rental units. And other than the townhouses, the apartments will be a mix of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units, he said. Potential rents weren’t revealed Tuesday.
Out of the 434 rental units, only 11 will be affordable, or 2.5 percent of the total on site housing. The developer is using the buyout provision in the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance to avoid building 10 percent affordable on site, Tucker said.
Developers said they would contribute $4 million to the city’s fund, which is used to build affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
During the question portion of the presentation, a few neighbors said they were concerned that only 11 units would be set aside for affordable housing in the massive project.
“The off-site affordable housing should be on-site and incorporated into the development,” said Bob Burns, an audience member. He called the decision to use the buy-out provision a “cop out” by developers.
Neighbors also said they were concerned with increased traffic congestion the project would bring, both during the construction phase and after it is completed.
Tucker said his firm is still conducting traffic studies and will share results once they are completed.
Some neighbors also said they were concerned about the height of the proposed 10-story building — similar to complaints heard during meetings for the Point at Six Corners development pitched across the street from the Sears.
One neighbor asked what kinds of businesses the developers were planning to attract to the first-floor storefronts. Tucker said they were looking at a variety that include restaurants and retail, but said was too early to say which businesses would be leasing space.
The massive Sears at Six Corners opened in 1938 and was an anchor of the business corridor for decades. In July 2018, the store sold off the last of its inventory and fixtures.
The last update on the property happened during a standing-room-only meeting in November 2018 that lasted three hours inside the former Sears Auto Center. During that meeting developers took feedback from the neighborhood.
Many of their suggestions — like a pool, public green space, preserving the Art Deco facade of the Sears, a pedestrian walkway connecting structures and a gym — were all incorporated into the plans presented Tuesday night.
Ald. Gardiner said the project could boost the Six Corners area by bringing a demographic that would live and shop in the area, thus helping the struggling business corridor.
Later in the meeting, several neighbors asked Gardiner if he was going to support the project as presented. He initially said he was there to gather feedback from the audience. But after another neighbor pressed him to voice his opinion on the project, Gardiner said he was “excited” for it but did have one concern.
“There’s definitely some tweaking we can still definitely do,” Gardiner said. “The homes right behind the project on Belle Plaine, I’d like to talk to the residents there to see how this would impact their lives.”
A few other residents, including James Suh, owner of Car Care Auto Spa at 3618 N. Cicero Ave., asked Tucker if he felt the alderman had negotiated with them in good faith up to this point.
He and other neighbors who stepped up to the microphone said they were worried Gardiner could potentially stall the Sears development the way he did the Point at Six Corners project.
Responding to audience fears about Gardiner pulling the plug on the project, Tucker said he’s been negotiating in “good faith” with the alderman so far.
Check out more renderings presented at Tuesday night’s meeting below:
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