LOGAN SQUARE — With major changes on the horizon for Logan Square’s traffic circle, and more than a year after a massive development replaced the old Megamall, a long-discussed plan to convert two nearby city-owned lots into public green space is gaining momentum.
And if plans falls into place, Logan Square could gain a new park on one site and a spot designed to draw food cart and food truck vendors dishing up paletas, empanadas, tamales and more.
Community leaders and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) are pushing the city to redevelop lots on either side of Logan Apartments, the 220-unit apartment complex at 2522 N. Milwaukee Ave., which they say haven’t been effectively used for decades.
The plan centers around two city-owned parcels: the roughly 14,000-square-foot lot at the northern end of the complex at 2550 N. Milwaukee Ave. and the parking lot at the southern end of the complex at 2420 N. Sacramento Ave., which is about half the size.
Local leaders want to see the northern end transformed into a public park with a water feature and bleacher seating and the southern lot converted into an area for paleta and empanada carts and food trucks, including one longtime tamale vendor who was pushed off the site when the Megamall was torn down and redeveloped into Logan Apartments.
The effort has been underway for several years, but accelerated after Logan Apartments was built. Last month, the project took a big step forward when community leaders and Waguespack’s office met with city planners.
Pete Strazzabosco, spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, confirmed the plan is being discussed and in the early stages.
Funding, the design of the public spaces and the construction timeline have all yet to be determined, Strazzabosco said. Still, community leaders are hopeful the project will move forward now that city planners are at the table.
Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, and other proponents of the project said well-designed public green spaces or plazas would be a huge improvement over what’s there currently.
The northern lot is a nondescript grassy lot that sometimes draws people with dogs and others walking down Milwaukee Avenue. It is currently maintained by the developer of Logan Apartments, though that deal is only temporary, Schneider said. The developer agreed to maintain the lot for a year after building the mixed-use development next door, he said.
Located underneath the Blue Line tracks, the southern lot is currently used as a small parking lot, which is “not the highest and best use for the property,” said Paul Sajovec, Waguespack’s chief of staff.
Kris Lucius, a member of Logan Square Preservation and a landscape architect whose firm, SmithGroup, produced renderings for the project, agreed.
Lucius said the project “takes these spaces that we walk by, walk around every single day, and delivers them back into the public domain.”
Despite preliminary community support, and the city’s involvement, the plan is still a long way off from reality.
Sajovec said his office “keeps hitting roadblocks,” mainly because the two lots are owned by the city and located next to the “L” tracks.
“It’s just one of these things when you’re dealing with publicly-owned property,” Sajovec said. “The CTA has concerns. The tracks go underground right there. There’s a retaining wall. There’s all kinds of things that have to be worked out before we can do anything extensive.”
Schneider said his group has earmarked $50,000 in state money toward the project, but that will only cover a portion of work. Redevelopment of the Sacramento Avenue lot is expected to cost at least $80,000, he said.
Whatever the timeline, the project would bring new life to sites that have languished for decades, Schneider and other proponents said.
The city bought the Sacramento Avenue lot in 1967 to support CTA operations, Strazzabosco said. A couple of years later, the CTA extended the Blue Line to Jefferson Park. In recent years, an auto repair shop started parking cars on the lot without permission from the city, Sajovec said.
The city acquired the Milwaukee Avenue lot much more recently, in 2008, just four years after the site was recommended for public use in the Department of Planning and Development’s Logan Square Open Space Plan, Strazzabosco said. That lot has sat empty for many years.
Years ago, there was a plan to bring an apple orchard with rare apple trees to the Milwaukee Avenue lot, Sajovec said. But the project fizzled out because organizers only wanted to open the orchard to the public at certain times of day, he said.
Before Logan Apartments, when the Discount Megamall was still active, community leaders were interested in bringing fenced-off public space to the Milwaukee Avenue lot, Sajovec said.That plan fell apart when Logan Apartments became a reality.
“Once the development was there, suddenly the dynamics of that publicly owned property changed,” Sajovec said.
Now, the project is gathering speed as the city gears up to rework the nearby Logan Square traffic circle. Those plans call for rerouting Kedzie Avenue north of Milwaukee Avenue to create the plaza adjacent to the Blue Line station, rerouting Milwaukee Avenue and converting the circle traffic into two-way traffic. Construction is expected to start next year.
It makes sense the two projects are coinciding because they both are designed to improve the heart of the neighborhood, Schneider said.
In recent months, the Milwaukee Avenue lot has naturally become more of a public space after the fence was taken down and popular Greek restaurant Andros Taverna moved in next door, Schneider said.
“People are already starting to engage with it in a positive way,” he said. “I’m hoping with some permanent improvements there, there will be even more engagement.”
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