WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — A city plan to revive the former Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank in West Humboldt Park is gaining momentum.
The bank site at 4000 W. North Ave. and 1616-38 N. Pulaski Road has sat vacant for 13 years. City officials are stepping in to bring the site back to life as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative, which aims to revitalize neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
The Community Development Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a two-part measure that allows the city to market the property and act as a conduit between the current building owner and developers. The measure technically gives the city the power to buy the property, but that’s not part of the plan, officials said at the hearing.
Tuesday’s approval moves the redevelopment project forward. Next, city officials will issue a request for proposals to bring in developers.
The plan for the site has not been finalized. City officials have been working with community stakeholders and Ald. Roberto Maldonado, whose 26th Ward includes the site, for months to come up with ideas.
Neighbors and community leaders want to see a cultural hub and community center with an empowerment center, nonprofit offices and some shops, among other uses. They’re also hoping to see a 100-percent affordable housing complex built on one of the empty lots next to the bank building to combat gentrification in the area.
The former Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank was built in 1925 during the “golden age” of banking, when banks were designing grand buildings to “signal to the banking customer the notion that their money would be safe and the bank was here to stay,” city officials wrote in the building’s landmark designation report in 2012.
Architect Karl M. Vitzthum, who has designed several banks across Chicago, gave the West Humboldt Park bank Roman columns, a three-story lobby and sculptural panels influenced by the social realism movement.
Puerto Rico-based bank Banco Popular took over the landmarked bank building in the mid-’90s as Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican population grew. Banco Popular called the building home until 2008 before moving across the street.
The site has languished in recent years. Pulaski Investments, owner of the site since 2015, has struggled to redevelop the historic building and the surrounding lots after Banco Popular’s departure, Mike Parella, with the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said Tuesday.
Now the city is looking to intervene, facilitate redevelopment of the building and provide subsidies to fill gaps in funding, Parella said.
“Through discussions with the community and [development department], we believe the bank’s revitalization will transform the neighborhood and its redevelopment will reflect the values and priorities of the INVEST South/West initiative,” Parella said.
Community leaders recently launched a survey that allows neighbors to weigh in on the future of the site. Anyone who lives, works, worships or goes to school in the area bounded by Bloomingdale Avenue, Division Street, Kedzie Avenue and Kostner Avenue is encouraged to submit feedback through the survey.
William Smiljanić-Pérez, a member of the neighborhood group Nobel Neighbors, said his group and other stakeholders are working to ensure the community is thoroughly represented in the Pioneer Bank redevelopment project.
Smiljanić-Pérez said neighbors felt shut out of a plan to build a $50 million creative office campus at 1334 N. Kostner Ave. — also a project under the mayor’s INVEST South/West Initiative — and they don’t want to see that happen again.
“Our vision is really ultimately about pushing back against gentrification and displacement of longtime residents, residents who have built community in this section of Humboldt Park,” he said. “We hope we can really shape the city’s process rather than the city process shaping what the community wants.”
In the survey, community leaders said the city also wants to redevelop the Jens Jensen-designed Pioneer Arcade building at 1535 N. Pulaski Road, at the same intersection as the Pioneer Bank building.
Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said while fostering “catalytic investments on investments on adjacent blocks” is a goal of the INVEST South/West initiative, Tuesday’s measure does not include the Pioneer Arcade building.
City officials this week announced the winning development proposals for a round of INVEST South/West projects in Austin, Englewood and Auburn Gresham. The city is accepting bids on developments in Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, North Lawndale and South Chicago.
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