AUSTIN — A plan to redevelop the long-vacant Laramie State Bank is moving forward.
The Chicago Plan Commission voted Thursday to approve a sweeping proposal to transform the historic bank building, 5200 W. Chicago Ave. into a museum, mixed-income housing, community plaza, business incubator and café. The proposal now will go to the City Council’s Committee on Zoning before a final vote from all 50 alderpeople.
The $44.2 million redevelopment is part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative aimed at funneling public and private investment toward historically neglected neighborhoods. The plan by Oak Park Regional Housing and Heartland Alliance to overhaul the building was selected from a pool of seven developers vying to build on the site in March 2021.
“It is an eyesore at the moment, and I just can’t wait for this project to get off the ground,” said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who represents the ward where Laramie is located. “It’s going to really help the neighborhood with all the investments happening on Chicago Avenue.”
The nearly century-old bank has deteriorated heavily over the years and requires fixes to extensive water damage. The project will restore the building and preserve its historic Art Deco architecture, city officials said.
The project is aimed at jumpstarting Austin’s local economy and building on the momentum of other economic opportunities and investments happening along Chicago Avenue, which neighborhood groups have rebranded as Soul City Corridor.
“There’s a lot of robust activity happening on Chicago Avenue,” including new businesses like Soul City Studios, Mr. Anthony’s Cleaners and TNC Fitness, said Athena Williams, Oak Park Regional Housing’s executive director.
The Laramie State Bank building has been vacant since it was foreclosed on in 2012. The redeveloped building still have a bank to improve access to financial services for residents in the areas as well as a café and an incubator to support emerging entrepreneurs and attract businesses to the corridor, officials said.
A museum honoring the contributions of Chicago artists to blues music also will be launched inside the building, aligning with efforts to rebrand Chicago Avenue as Soul City Corridor by the Austin African American Business Network Association.
Plans also include several lots surrounding the old bank building, which will be developed into 78 units of mixed-income housing. There will also be a courtyard between the bank building and the housing complex that will include a community plaza, gardens, and several public art installations, developers said.
“It’s a smart piece of urbanism… respecting the scale and character of Chicago. Creating a quiet place with this courtyard. Chicago Avenue can be very busy, so creating a refuge… embodies some of the best things we’re trying to do,” said Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s planning department.
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