As the nearly 100 people entered i.O. (formerly Improv Olympic) on Sunday night, the mood was tense, but the in-your-face message was clear: Save Wrigleyville.
As the theater reached near capacity, a spin on Jodi Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” written and performed by i.O. alum Matt Besser was played on a projector screen. Besser, best known for his work with the Upright Citizens Brigade and his sketches on Comedy Central, used sharp lyrics in the song titled “Big Corporate Mess” or “Ann Sather’s Food Tastes like Rat Poop”:
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know whatcha got till it’s gone,” he sang. “They paved the i.O and built a big corporate mess. Chicago’s known for improv, not for Dominick’s, but now the neighborhood is run by a bunch of dicks. Tunney, don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know whatcha you got till it’s gone. Come on, Tunney, it ain’t all about the money.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) at last Thursday’s final community meeting endorsed a controversial, $100-million mixed-use development project planned for across the street from Wrigley Field. The alderman, owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurant, said that developer Anthony Rossi’s project was “a good development for the neighborhood.”
If passed, the development, “Addison Park on Clark,” would level roughly eight neighborhood businesses to make way for a 137-room Hyatt Hotel, 135 residential units, 145,000 square feet of retail space and 399 underground parking spaces.
The displaced include Red Ivy, 3519 N. Clark St.; Goose Island Beer Co., 3535 N. Clark St.; Salt & Pepper Diner, 3537 N. Clark St.; Bar Louie, 3545 N. Clark St.; and i.O., 3541 N. Clark St., once home to comedy legend Del Close and stars Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers.
After Tunney voiced his support last week, Tara DeFrancisco, a member of i.O., created a Facebook group to mobilize a movement in an attempt to halt the project. The group, People Against the “Malling of Wrigleyville,” in just under a week has garnered support from over 7,100 members.
“We want people to be aware of an eclectic neighborhood facing what we feel is a detrimental change,” DeFrancisco said. “This development would take some of the spark and liveliness out of a great neighborhood, and we are here to get the word out, and there has been a bigger outpouring of support that we could have ever imagined.”
Tunney said he wasn’t aware of the growing Facebook movement against the project, but was aware of the 20 community meetings in the Lakeview neighborhood over the past three years. Tunney said he had representatives at Sunday night’s meeting, but said this is not a new issue for the community.
“I am sure that they are concerned, as am I, about making sure these businesses have a way to stay in the community. But this isn’t a new issue and we have had three years worth of meetings to address concerns,” he said.
But when plans were announced in 2008 for the 3500 block of North Clark Street, Charna Halpern, owner and director of i.O., said she was told that i.O. would get a temporary location just behind its current spot, and after completion of the project they would have a new theater in the new development. After all, the developer, who also owns several of the buildings on the block, Steven Schultz, is her cousin.
Schultz couldn’t be reached for comment.
Halpern said that through the two-plus-year process, Schultz assured and reassured her that she had nothing to worry about. That ended last week.
“He told me last week, ‘Sorry you’re out, don’t take it personally, it’s just business,’” she said. “Now I am fighting for my life. I am fighting for my theater family, and the neighborhood I have worked in for 35 years and love.”
The meeting Sunday, more of an open forum, drew dozens of suggestions from an active audience who wanted answers and results, and were willing to try anything to save what they called their “livelihood, in a neighborhood they love and don’t want to leave.”
Paul Meyd, 24, who moved to Chicago seven months ago from Maryland, said he made the 700-mile trek to be a part of Chicago’s improv scene and be a part of what he called an historic and beautiful neighborhood.
“There is so much character in this community,” Meyd said. “On a day that the Cubs win or lose, I can’t imagine leaving the stadium and seeing a mall and a hotel. That’s not conducive to this neighborhood, we don’t need it. It doesn’t lend anything to this atmosphere or to the people that live here.”
Lyndsay Hailey, 29, a resident of Lincoln Park, agreed with Meyd, and said it is “silly to think anyone wants to leave a Cubs game and go buy a book.”
“It doesn’t make any sense for an actual mall to be right here in Wrigleyville, across from Wrigley Field,” she said. “People like to come to Wrigley to enjoy the theater, the neighborhood, the Cubs and the nightlife, and there is no reason to change that or take it away.”
No date is set yet, but Tunney said the next step will be to present the proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission in June.