PORTAGE PARK — A proposed plaza near Six Corners that was modeled after a popular community area in Lincoln Square is now on hold after the ward’s new alderman raised concerns about it blocking a fire lane.
The project, known as Cuyler Plaza, located at Cuyler Avenue at Milwaukee Avenue, was to be a gathering place to encourage more people to come to Six Corners, much the way Giddings Plaza attracts people to Lincoln Square.
The project was initiated and funded with TIF money under then-Ald. John Arena (45th). But Jim Gardiner ousted Arena in last year’s elections, and he told constituents by email in recent days that the plaza is now on hold.
In his 45th Ward Weekly Update email, Gardiner, a Chicago Fire Dept. firefighter/EMT, said a study should be conducted to see if a fire lane is needed for emergency and fire equipment. The study would also look at congestion.
In addition, Gardiner cited residential concerns, writing that residents within 250 feet of the proposed project expressed opposition.
Gardiner told Block Club the motivation for sending the email about the plaza delay was “to inform our constituents of decisions we make or decisions that effect people in the surrounding area.”
He added that the Fire Department will complete the study that he requested. A Fire Department spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
In April, Arena’s office, along with the Six Corners Association, secured $1.05 million from the Irving/Cicero Tax Increment Financing Fund to design and construct the project.
Arena said in a phone interview that an engineering study had already been paid for and completed before he left office.
“We had earmarked TIF money for the project and spent about $170,000 for an engineering study before I left office,” Arena said.
The battles between Arena and Gardiner did not end after last year’s election. Cuyler Plaza is at least the second Arena-led effort put on ice by Gardiner, who last fall announced he would not support the huge The Point development at Six Corners championed by his predecessor.
Arena, meanwhile, went on to work for Mayor Lori Lightfoot as a senior adviser. But she announced earlier this month that Arena had resigned. Arena had been accused by Gardiner of doing political work and being disruptive towards him at a community event.
Six Corners Association Executive Director Jason Estremera said although he’s known about Gardiner’s Cuyler Plaza decision for almost two months, it took him by surprise.
“The organization was involved in a pretty in-depth planning process that involved the community and the former alderman. The city did approve it and the funding was there back in April. We found out about two months ago that the project was halted. It came from left field and are trying to understand what the next steps are,” Estremera said.
Gardiner spokesman Ethan Brady said the project will not be pushed through because “it’s a major safety issue.”
“What the alderman is interested in doing is working with the Chicago Fire Department so he’s drafting a letter to the fire commissioner asking him to perform an ingress/egress study on Cuyler Plaza to see if there needs to be a fire lane installed and to see if all the residential and business properties around Cuyler Plaza are accessible for emergency equipment because if they are not and Cuyler Plaza goes ahead it’s a liability issue and a major safety issue,” Brady said.
He also added that Gardiner will be talking more to people who live in the immediate area.
“Alderman Gardiner is also going to do community outreach in the immediate area because we have received several detailed letters from some in the area who do not want Cuyler Plaza because they believe it’s going to restrict their access to Milwaukee Avenue and add more traffic to Cuyler. There are major concerns from residents that he’s interested in listening to.”
Brady did not know how long a fire department study would take, saying only “this is something that we are not looking to speed along because it’s a major safety issue.”
Estremera said his group is hoping to work with Gardiner’s office more in the future in hopes to complete projects in the area.
“We are going to work with the alderman’s office as much as we can with the information we already collected that was satisfactory for the city to gain a better understanding of what his goals are. We are getting to a place where we are beginning to work together and look forward to having more things to report. We are just as much in the dark as most other people as far as figuring out what’s happening in the neighborhood.”
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