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South Loop mixed-income apartments plan met with various concerns

South Loop high-rises. Photo courtesy: Beyond My Ken
South Loop high-rises. Photo courtesy: Beyond My Ken

The long-awaited plan to revitalize the vacant Harold L. Ickes Homes received mixed reviews last month from South Loop residents who were worried about the mixed-income development, parking, and traffic during and after construction.

“It’s going to be a mix of rental apartments, homeownership, retail, parking and green space,” said Jason Pugh, associate project architect at Gensler, the master planner of the project, during the 3rd Ward’s town hall meeting at National Teachers Academy on Nov. 10.

The revitalization, jointly developed by McCaffery Interests Inc. and Community Builders Inc., both of Chicago, will include an 11-acre “mixed-income neighborhood” that takes up three city blocks at the intersection of Cermak Road and State Street, where the Ickes nine-story high-rise buildings used to stand. The deteriorating public housing development was torn down in 2010. However, this new project wasn’t announced until 2015.

The plan was approved in October by the Chicago Housing Authority Board with $3.6 million in predevelopment loans, and will advance to the Chicago Plan Commission in Spring 2017. Construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2017 and end by 2019, according to Gensler.

The new neighborhood will consist of 877 residential units, including 465 units that will be sold at market price, 244 public housing units to be set aside for former Ickes residents, and 168 affordable housing units. Pugh said the composition of different types of units was “very balanced.”

“We have 30 percent CHA units and 70 percent non-CHA units,” explained Pugh, as he shared the plans in a slideshow during the meeting. “We have three levels of residential units – a combination of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. So folks of various incomes will have very good options.”

Andre Brumfield, the director of planning and urban design for Gensler in Chicago, said in an e-mail interview that the Ickes development would provide much needed affordable housing in the South Loop.

“Neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Side already have their ‘fair share’ of affordable and subsidized housing,” Brumfield wrote. “We as a city need to explore other areas in the city to have higher area median incomes.”

The plan for mixed-income housing in the neighborhood was not well received by all South Loop residents.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to build affordable houses with commercial houses,” said Denise Josha who lives one block away from the planned development. “They tried to mix that before, and it didn’t go right. Some people in affordable houses bring in other people who should not be there. It became unlivable.”

She said as a taxpayer and homeowner, she opposes the development unless the city plans to enforce stricter guidelines in regulating the number of residents in one unit.

“It’s OK that some people need affordable houses, but it’s not OK that people take advantage of it,” Josha said.

Despite her skepticism, Josha said the retail stores planned for the development would bring convenience to the neighborhood.

She said area residents around the National Teachers Academy, north of the redevelopment site, have to travel three blocks to the nearest Mariano’s located at the corner of South Clark and West 17th streets for groceries.

“That will be good news for the seniors in the building,” Josha said.

The redevelopment plan is expected to bring the community back to life, said the developers. The total project will include 60,000 square feet of ground-level retail spaces, where restaurants, groceries and drug stores would be open to the entire community. There will also be open space at the corners of State Street and 23rd Place to host community events.

“These shops and residences will connect with the surrounding community,” Pugh said, citing its proximity to schools and the Green Line.

What’s more, the developers considered the 800 square-feet parking space, along both sides of the neighborhood, would help alleviate the South Loop parking pressure.

East Roosevelt Road in the South Loop. Photo courtesy: Beyond My Ken
East Roosevelt Road in the South Loop. Photo courtesy: Beyond My Ken

“It will provide generous parking space,” Pugh said. “We know that’s a South Loop big concern.”

Traffic was top of mind for one African-American mother who spoke anonymously at the meeting. She said the traffic flow near the James Ward Elementary School, 2701 South Shields Avenue, had “doubled or tripled over these years” as the South Loop population grew.

“They just car in, bike in, and there’s lots of people,” said the mother, as her three young kids were playing during the meeting. She worried the traffic would become harder to manage if more parking lots were available around the community.

She also voiced her concern about her children’s safety during the time of construction.

“There’s a lack of public space to drop my kids after school,” said the mother, adding that it would be dangerous for her kids to play around near the construction site before she got off work.

The former Ickes neighborhood, known for its large African-American population, made headlines in 2008 due to a police harassment scandal and was long reported to have high crime rates.

Marcus Brown, 24, an area commuter who lives on the West Side, said the traffic along the South State Street was already quite heavy. He worried the new apartments would make it harder for commuters who had to cross the South Loop by car or bus.

“The project sounds like a large one,” said Brown, looking aside for his bus as he waited at the 29 State bus stop. “And it’s right beside the street. A lot of people will be moving in. There’s definitely more pedestrians, more traffic flow.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) said the existing laws would prevent any safety issue caused by the construction.

She deflected the traffic management issue in her ward and said she would address the matter at a later time.

Brumfield said more public meetings sponsored by the 3rd Ward are planned to invite more conversation with South Loop homeowners and community groups, although they have not scheduled the meetings.

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