LINCOLN PARK — The owners of a Lincoln Park commercial building are appealing to neighbors and their alderman for permission to convert their empty second floor into apartments as a way to make money during a tough business climate.
But the second floor isn’t empty as the owners said, and one tenant said they were never notified of their landlord’s plans to overhaul the space.
After Block Club reported on the rezoning request needed for a proposed redevelopment at 2144–56 N. Clybourn Ave., Mimi Bosika, co-founder of physical therapy group Delos Therapy, reached out to say their business had an active lease on the second floor of the building.
Block Club has since confirmed three of the building’s second-floor office spaces are occupied.
But that’s not what Madeleine Doering Hill, a development consultant representing building owner KJF Properties, told Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and the Sheffield Neighborhood Association during a community meeting last week.
Hill said the building’s first floor was fully occupied but its second floor was vacant, and finding new commercial tenants has been made more difficult because of the pandemic.
“If it wasn’t for COVID, we wouldn’t be in this position,” Shariff Fakhoury, who co-owns KJF, said at the meeting.
Brian Comer, president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, said the group did not know the second floor of the building was being used. He declined to comment further. A representative from Hopkins’ office would not comment on whether the alderman knew the second floor was occupied.
But news of the proposed plan shocked Bosika, whose business has operated out of the building’s second floor since 2014 and recently renewed its lease.
“I would have preferred to have been notified directly by the management company prior to any alderman meetings or news articles being written,” Bosika said. “We hate to see our staff or clients alarmed unnecessarily.”
Hill outlined the proposal for Hopkins and the neighborhood group during a town hall, a standard step in the process for developers pursuing major projects.
Hill said the building owners felt converting the commercial offices into seven two-bedroom and two one-bedroom apartment units would be a good option to revive the struggling building, Hill said. None of the units will be affordable housing.
The property qualifies as a transit-oriented development, so it wouldn’t have parking spaces. It would have bike racks installed on the first floor, Hill said.
To do all that, the Fakhourys need to be approved for a zoning change, which also would apply to the building next door, 2142 N. Clybourn Ave., also owned by KFJ Properties.
“The goal here is to keep this building viable and breathe new life into it with this new use, [but] our current zoning does not allow residential” units, Hill said at the meeting.
Aldermen typically have broad decision-making power when it comes to building projects in their wards, but Hopkins did not indicate whether he supported the proposal.
Asked about the building this week, Fakhoury acknowledged in an emailed statement Delos occupies the second floor and its lease was renewed for two more years “at a significantly below-market rate — seemingly to take advantage of the property’s financial difficulty.”
Fakhoury also said most of the building’s tenants have struggled to make rent, and KJF has made arrangements with them to collect partial rent, no rent or allow them to have continued access to the spaces until they could move out.
“The fact remains that the second floor of this particular structure will be vacant and we are currently taking the appropriate steps to remedy that situation — as we continue to care for each and every tenant with respect to their unique situation,” Fakhoury said.
Bosika just renewed her lease in September for another two years with KJF Properties, so she felt “blindsided” when a concerned staffer came to her with Block Club’s story.
Fakhoury said Delos was informed about the redevelopment plans and they negotiated a termination clause in the lease requiring six months’ notice if the business had to leave.
But Bosika said she had “certainly never been informed of any plans,” and she negotiated for a “fair market rate, considering that businesses all around us are closing and there’s an excess supply of available commercial space.”
Representatives for the floor’s other tenants — the corporate offices for Shred415 and general contractor Home Details — either did not respond to or declined to comment.
“In the end, one fact remains indisputable, which is that the claim that there are no tenants on the second floor of the building … is not truthful,” Bosika said.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.