Home of the 43rd Ward Democrats - Michele Smith Committeeman

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Friday, June 25, 2010

A Recap of our Forum on Retail Development in Lincoln Park

Here are more details about our panel discussion "The Future of Development in the 43rd Ward."

I called the meeting because I believe the we all need to understand the issues underlying the development problems in the ward. Specific topics of concern:

What about those vacant stores? I counted them. Right now, there are 182 vacant stores in the Lincoln Park area, encompassing 785,000 square feet of space. Here is a list. You can see my 5 minute presentation on those vacancies here.

At the forum, our panel of experts explained why we have all these vacancies and together, we began to get the community involved in finding a solution to the problem. What we learned is, that while some of the problems in retail are of course a results of the economy, the overall picture is far more complex. Here are the key findings:

- Lincoln Park in general is overbuilt in terms of retail. According to our panelists, there is today more existing shopping space than can be supported.

- Most retailers look for proximity to other similar retailers, be it restaurants, clothing stores or other space. Retailers also love density, be it of people or cars. But Lincoln Park has 4,000 fewer families than it had in 1970. We all know many blocks in the neighborhood where traditional three flats were demolished in favor of single family homes. Those fewer families provide a much smaller base for neighborhood shopping. The closing of employers such as the hospitals will further reduce the number of customers for local merchants. We need to bear this in mind as we plan for the future.

- Clark Street has the most retail vacancies around, 32 in a five block area. While there are many property owners on Clark Street, one Dr. Jerry Winkler, formerly of Chicago and now of Los Angeles, is the dominant landlord, owning over 40 storefronts. Our panelists were in agreement that this landlord is a cause of the emptiness of Clark Street. I've concluded that the number of vacancies in his properties has had a cascading effect on our community, discouraging other retailers because of the lack of other businesses. Further, as population in the ward has shifted west, Clark Street may be less attractive for major businesses, but is still important for neighborhood shopping.

- The vacancies on Armitage Avenue are the result of the boom in real estate in the last decade, not the current bust. Speculators bought up the existing successful storefronts, doubled the rents and forced out the local merchants in hopes of bringing in national tenants. These shouldn't be the focus on Armitage, given the competiton from Clybourn, and frankly, suburban shopping. Panelist Diana Epstein explained that there needs to be a balance between local retailers and large chains - but that the community really must support its local retail.

Having said this, all our panelists agreed that Lincoln Park is the most desirable part of the city for retail, and is sought after. In that case, what needs to be done to get the retailers back? Don't we need a plan?

Here's what we proposed:

Community involvement. Panelist Larry Bennett of DePaul stated that research has shown that development in which the community is deeply involved leads to better decisions for that site.

Community action. I am forming a Task Force on Development, focusing first on Clark Street - we'll come up with plans for community action to restore our street. Our 43rd Ward community includes many talented citizens, with ideas from legislation to alliances. Some of the ideas that came up in the forum included: allying with DePaul to provide "incubator" space for new business on Clark Street, creating tax penalties for leaving space vacant, pushing for incentives to help small businesses vs. large city incentives for national chains, and creating temporary uses for vacant space. Sign up to join or get information on the task force at http:///.

Our neighborhood is poised on the brink of its greatest change since gentrification began - and I want you to be educated as to the issues so you can participate in making Lincoln Park the best urban neighborhood in the country.

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