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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Royal George Theatre Will Be Redeveloped Into 9-Story Apartment Building

City Council voted to approve the 131-unit development across from Steppenwolf Theater, which faced fierce opposition from neighbors and has since been scaled down.

A rendering shows developers' plans to overhaul the Royal George Theatre into an apartment building.
Twitter/Department of Planning and Development
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LINCOLN PARK — The Royal George Theatre will be redeveloped into a nine-story apartment building after City Council approved the plan Thursday.

Developers Draper & Kramer plan to tear down the closed theater at 1641 N. Halsted St. and build a nine-story apartment building with ground-floor retail in its place. The Royal George Theatre was a staple in Chicago’s theater scene, but never reopened after its pandemic-related closure in 2020.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) previously said he was “in full support” of the project, as did business leaders from the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce and Steppenwolf Theater, which sits across the street. Steppenwolf will partner with the developers to rent out 15 percent of the apartments at an affordable rate for visiting artists.

Neighbors fiercely opposed the development, arguing the new building would tower over neighbors in the nearby HOB neighborhood, named after Howe, Orchard and Burling streets.

“We are very concerned about the neighbors to the east of this project,” leaders from the Ranch Triangle and Lincoln Central neighborhood associations wrote in a joint letter. “This project looms over them and their voices have been silenced with the proposed negotiated deal.”

Draper & Kramer first pitched the project to Hopkins in June 2021 as a 192-unit apartment building. The plans have since been scaled down at Hopkins’ request, attorney Rich Klawiter said during an August plan commission meeting.

The plans approved Thursday allow for 131 apartments, and the size of the upper floors have been scaled back with setbacks on the top two floors.

Other changes include improving the building’s facade by using more brickwork at the ground level along with vertical terra cotta accents, Klawiter said.

Credit: Provided
An earlier rendering of the Royal George Theatre development.

Part of Hopkins’ support for the project hinged on developers’ promise to contribute $300,000 toward the construction of new parkland at the southwest corner of Larrabee Street and North Avenue, the alderman previously said.

The park space, which was once a portion of Ogden Avenue’s right-of-way, will increase Park 598’s size ahead of the Chicago Park District’s planned makeover of the area, Hopkins said.

“The project will connect the entire park with the greater neighborhood by bringing it underneath the CTA tracks and all the way north to North Avenue,” Hopkins wrote to his constituents prior to the August meeting.

Developers shared during a June 2022 community meeting the building would have a mix of studios, “traditional” one-bedroom apartments, loft-style one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms.

Because the site is 463 feet from the North/Clybourn CTA station, the building qualifies as a transit-oriented development, developers said last year. As such, plans for the building include 35 off-street parking spaces.

Residents would be restricted from getting on-street parking permits, Hopkins said.

One neighbor who lives in Ranch Triangle near the proposed development said during the August plan commission meeting she opposes the project because it doesn’t conform with neighboring buildings.

“The building would be more than double the height of buildings behind it on Burling,” she said. “One of the claims is that there’s ‘precedent’ for this development, but one of my concerns is the next developer will claim precedent for another massive building.”

Brooke Flanagan, executive director of Steppenwolf, has said she felt the proposed building’s design would complement the “artistic” architecture of the theater, which debuted a new theater and education building in 2021.

She said the project would “increase vibrancy indicators of our neighborhood and elevate the community and density of our cultural corridor, increasing patronage at the many restaurants that call Halsted Street home.”

Kim Schilf, president and CEO of the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, has said the apartment building would have a positive effect on local businesses.

“It will provide much-needed density to the corridor, increasing foot traffic and creating a larger pool of residents to spend dollars locally,” Schilf said.

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