The picture of the proposed Ravenswood Station/Terrace development on Lawrence Avenue (the six-acre parcel is currently owned by Sears) became a bit clearer Thursday night at a community meeting featuring representatives from the developers of both the commercial and residential components.
Approximately 30 residents and a gaggle of suits attended the detailed presentation, hosted on Dec. 15 by 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar at McPherson Elementary, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave.
Tweaks to the commercial project, based on feedback gathered at a previous meeting, were outlined (more on that below), but the major news of the night concerned the residential portion of the development, absent at earlier gatherings.
Greg Merdinger of NexStep-Belgravia, a seasoned developer who pulled together the Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue, fleshed out his group’s vision for Ravenswood Terrace. (Merdinger’s partners include Belgravia’s Alan Lev and Buzz Ruttenberg.)
Perhaps the most surprising revelation: The estimated 155-160 residential units are being built as apartments, not condos. “The ‘for sale’ housing market has not been on a tear of late,” Merdinger wryly noted, while demand does exist for rental properties.
The development, which fronts Argyle Street, has been designed to mimic the “scale and intimacy” of Lakeview’s historic Alta Vista Terrace, according to Merdinger, with two rows of three-story six flats facing each other, separated by a boulevard. The configuration represents a significant departure from the original proposal, which called for 75 townhouses and a 14-story tower.
Ravenswood Terrace apartments will be almost evenly split between one- and two-bedroom units. A six-story “amenities” building is planned to sit in the center of one of the rows (precise placement is still a bit fluid), with a rooftop terrace, fitness center and community room for residents. Ten percent of the units will be designated as “affordable.” Guests will be permitted to park on the boulevard, and 111 parking spots have been set aside for residents. The plan also includes a bike room and storage.
Merdinger and his partners are under contract with Sears to purchase the required land. The development is priced at $26 million; no TIF dollars are being provided. By contrast, the commercial project carries an estimated cost of $40 million, with a $4.5 million TIF allocation.
Residents’ concerns primarily involved parking (“Parking is going to be an issue,” admitted Pawar, who continues to focus on the use of public transit) and the height of the six-story building. “All stories are not created equal,” countered Merdinger, pointing out that the building is only 10-feet taller than the proposed two-story adjacent commercial building.
While making use of a single parcel of land, the commercial and residential developments are being financed and constructed independently of each other, Merdinger emphasized; neither needs to wait for the other to bring in the bulldozers. Both projects are aiming for completion in 2013, timed to coincide with the proposed Lawrence Avenue streetscape and Metra bridge reconstruction.
Several “green” concerns have also been addressed. The project is aiming for LEED certification (likely Silver level), which should help alleviate much of the standing storm water that currently plagues the area during significant rainfalls.
Commercial Project Modified
Tim Barrett, representing the commercial development partners, and architect Joe Antunovich spoke about recent alterations in their plans, based largely on community feedback.
A self-contained traffic pattern will keep cars off Argyle Street and alleys. A new traffic signal will be installed west of Ravenswood to allow left turns into the property; Antunovich promised the signal would be coordinated to work together with its counterpart on the east side.
A 20-foot wide sidewalk will run from Lawrence Avenue along the Ravenswood retaining wall to the rear of the property, where the residential development begins. The width will accommodate strollers and bikes; in addition, nearly 100 bike spaces are now included in the project. Two hundred parking spaces have been set aside on the building’s roof for Mariano’s shoppers and another 157 parking spaces have been created at ground level at the rear of the building for additional retail customers. (Metra riders are SOL; not only is Sears eliminating 50 spaces devoted to commuters but security will patrol the Mariano’s lots to make sure no one uses them for long-term parking. Not that anyone was planning on doing that.)
In addition to Mariano’s, the building will house a Sears Auto Center (but you can pretty much kiss the Sears Key Shop goodbye), and Barrett stated that a deal is imminent to bring a health club to the building as well. “A number of health clubs have expressed interest in taking as much space as we can provide,” he said. “It would be inappropriate to name names, but hopefully we’ll have a lease within the next week.”
A third and final meeting for public input on both developments is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 19, 6:30 p.m., at the Bethany Retirement Community, 4950 N. Ashland Ave.
Pawar Has Final Say
While residents’ comments are still welcome, it’s difficult to imagine any public outcry derailing either the commercial or residential proposal at this point.
“This is a project that’s financeable; this is a project we can get done. I don’t want to lose the opportunity,” said Pawar, indicating which way the wind’s blowing. “There’s one more community meeting and then I’ll make a decision. There will be no vote. You guys elected me to do a job. I’ll make a decision and you can hold me to that decision.”
Bristling at a recent blistering in the press, Pawar defended his use of TIF money for the commercial project. The parcel is currently assessed at $3.3 million, he noted, generating $100,000 in property taxes. The proposed development increases that value to $22 million, and the taxes jump accordingly to $1 million, which will pay back the TIF in five years.
Pawar also pointed to significant give-backs from Mariano’s, including $250,000 for an urban agriculture “innovation fund,” restoration of senior bus service to shuttle seniors to the grocery store, and a pledge to open up more than 60 contracts to firms located in the 47th Ward. According to the developers, the project will create more than 150 construction jobs and 200 full-time retail jobs.
“TIF reform doesn’t mean you do the exact opposite,” Pawar said. “You just do it better.”