AUSTIN — The redevelopment of an old Sears building on the West Side is moving forward with a new vision after original plans were scrapped due to financial issues exasperated by the pandemic.
Novak Construction, the new owners of the former Sears site at North and Harlem avenues, now plan to tear it down to build a street-level retail center anchored by a major grocery store.
The site was previously owned by Seritage Growth Properties, which had already begun gutting the Sears building before selling it to Novak. The defunct plans would have created 161 units of upscale apartments, as well as a grocery store and ground-floor retail storefronts.
Novak bought the property in September and opted to cut the residential units from the development in favor of “a more simple plan,” said Jake Paschen of Novak Construction.
The smaller-scale plan will also have less retail space than the sprawling five-story development initially proposed by Seritage.
“Plans [are] still being developed. We are talking to tenants, we haven’t signed any leases yet. And that will dictate more of what happens with those sites,” Paschen said.
Paschen joined a virtual community meeting last week with Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) to share details on the project with residents. After the previous plans for the Sears building fell through, some community members said they were concerned it is not feasible to develop the site amid a recession and a pandemic with no end in sight.
“There’s a glut of real estate right now and a lot of retail space. You don’t want to build something that we can’t do,” one resident said.
Paschen said several retailers are interested in the development and he expects to have leases signed within the next few months. Demolition has already begun. Paschen hopes to have the plan approved and begin construction in 2021.
The Sears building sits at the western edge of the city between Austin’s Galewood neighborhood and the intersection of suburban River Forest, Oak Park and Elmwood Park.
Taliaferro doesn’t consider Galewood to be a food desert like many other areas of the West Side where residents must travel miles to get to grocery stores and supermarkets. There is a Food-4-Less a few miles away in North Austin, an Aldi in neighboring Belmont Cragin and several supermarkets in the surrounding suburbs.
But it is essential for West Side residents to have local and accessible grocery options so they don’t have to leave their neighborhoods to get food, Taliaferro said. “We need grocery stores on the West Side,” Taliaferro said, and he hopes similar investments will follow in other parts of the West Side.
“We would like to have those in our neighborhoods. Our push should continue to be to make sure we have major grocers with quality products being offered in our wards and in our neighborhoods,” Taliaferro said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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