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Wilson Yard’s facelift under way

Submitted on Mon, 10/15/2007 – 12:34.
Despite a forced relocation for his Uptown Tattoo Factory last year, Paul Collurafici holds no grudges. Nor is he concerned about the near decade wait on the Wilson Yard redevelopment, scheduled to be completed in fall 2009.

Wilson Yard, between the 4400 and 4600 block of North Broadway St., has begun the long process of transformation. The now empty lot is to become a Target store, affordable housing units and a new administrative building for Truman College, located on its west side and along Wilson Ave.

Initial site investigation and community discussion began more than ten years ago after a 1996 fire destroyed the Chicago Transit Authority rail yard. The 5.7 acre site in Uptown has been a fenced lot full of weeds since that time.

“You can go sit in the corner and cry or you can take the lemons you’re given and make lemonade,” said Collurafici, a supporter of Uptown retail growth.

Collurafici knew his Tattoo Factory would have to move from its former spot near Broadway St. and Montrose Ave. He started looking for a new space right away and opened his new location, across the street at 4441 N. Broadway St., in December.

Two other businesses, Taqueria Mr. Salsa and Uptown People’s Law Center, also relocated nearby. Aldi built a new grocery store on the north end of the Wilson Yard lot and it opened in May.

Once environmental soil tests are completed, the former Aldi building is slated for demolition. The so-called Azusa building for its former liquor store owner, a white terra cotta building at the corner of Broadway and Montrose, is also slated for demolition.

Since 2002, Holsten Real Estate Development has been working on the construction and renovation of the site. The developer recently confirmed the site’s progress and promised the Target store’s future construction.

Plans for the multi-million project have changed numerous times, including the housing and businesses. Initially, a 12-screen movie theatre was part of the original plans, and the 2006 news about Kerasotes theatre pulling out disappointed some residents.

Some community residents suspect Target will not be part of the finished project either and have sought assurances from the developer and the alderman

“Target is definitely coming,” said developer Peter Holsten. “The people spreading those rumors harbor some sort of ill will from the last aldermanic election.”

Incumbent Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) defeated James Cappleman in February’s close race and the slow progress of Wilson Yard and the proposed levels of affordable or low-income housing were hotly debated during the campaign.

“The project is moving along,” Holsten said. “We are removing terra cotta pieces from the building at Broadway and Montrose and site prep(aration) work will begin in October and November.”

Target Corporation, which currently owns five stores in Chicago, did not return calls for comment.

On a message board operated by Buena Park Neighbors, some residents expressed anger and frustration at Ald. Shiller because of the Wilson Yard project, disagreeing with the increased level of affordable housing and the extended wait to complete the project.

One poster wrote: “September and there is still no demo taking place. They’re probably just waiting for some homeless guy to burn it down trying to stay warm this winter.” Another wrote: “I’d take an empty lot over an ill-advised low-income mega-complex.”

Denice Davis, Shiller’s chief of staff, acknowledged that some community members are unhappy with the retail choices and the 78 units of affordable housing, with residents having mixed-income levels.

“There are those that think the new Aldi and affordable housing aren’t necessary,” Davis said. “But we had community meetings and took this huge basket of ideas from everyone [of what to do with Wilson Yard] and Mr. Holsten made sense of it for us.”

The final plan was approved by the Chicago City Council in June.

“The redevelopment will help the area in a variety of ways, including further growth,” said Connie Buscemi, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development. “It will bring in more money and benefit the community as a whole.”

Meanwhile, the former buildings of the relocated businesses sit empty in Wilson Yard, waiting for the necessary soil tests and preparations.

“Yeah, I’d like to wake up tomorrow and see Target there but you can’t go at an old building with a bulldozer. Everything has to be dismantled, which takes awhile,” said Collurafici, who is also a member of the Wilson Yard Task Force, a group of 46 constituents chosen by the alderman to help oversee the project.

“It took me a year to move my tattoo parlor,” he said. “How long do you think it will take to design and build a Target?”

Collurafici remains optimistic about the economic impact of the forthcoming commercial space, part of the reason he stayed in the area when relocating. The other reason?

“Uptown is just a pretty cool place,” he said.

North Side Planning & Development Public
alderman helen shiller holsten development uptown wilson yard

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