There used to be – and maybe there still is – an old signboard ad for on a building near the 99th Street Metra station in Beverly. It reads "the plaza IS the place. 95th & WESTERN." The sign is old and the boards are buckling in places. It obviously harks back to an earlier time when the Plaza was The Place.
When I saw it, it reminded me of those faded mural ads for long-gone stores that you see on buildings in Chicago. Like the Boston Store "ghost sign" on the north façade of the 1 North Dearborn building (which, in fact, used to be the Boston Store). They are reminders of times gone by, happier times for some. While they last, the faded signs are also reminders that times change, and often there is no going back to the way things were.
In some cases, we might not want to go back. I think the Plaza is one of those examples. Indoor shopping malls evolved from the idea that there was a better way to build town centers. We could enclose them, privatize them, eliminate the messiness of truly public spaces and safely segregate commerce away from other uses like residential. We could also make malls easily accessible by automobile, our favorite new toy of the 20th Century.
I believe that development wave is now breaking, and will soon crash and begin to recede. I believe we must plan for a future beyond malls. Conveniently, I don't think we have to use too much imagination to devise a replacement for the suburban mall. In fact, all we really need to do for inspiration is look back to the way we planned town centers before indoor malls.
This Thursday at 7 p.m. at Evergreen Park Patch will host. As the unofficial master of ceremonies – a duty conferred solely by my status as a "ground floor" Patch contributor – I'm going to spend five minutes laying out why I think a town center-style development is a good idea at the Plaza site. I will also share a couple of examples of malls that have been successfully redeveloped into town centers – notably Belmar in Lakewood, Colo., and Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Fla.
The rest of the time belongs to you. Patch wants your ideas for what you think should happen at the Plaza site. It could be as simple as wanting a Kohl's, or as complex as arguing for a design style. We all know what we like and what we don't like. We all know what stores would make our lives easier if they were closer and what stores we don't want. Now is the time to say it out loud.
We're going to write down what you say, put it all together and give it to the Evergreen Park village board, the body that has the ultimate final say in what will happen to the Plaza site. That way it becomes part of the public record. And when it comes time to consider a formal plan for the Plaza, we're going to remind everyone, including the village board members, what was said at this meeting. If the community's input is ignored without explanation or justification, we will point that out. Then it will be up to all of us to hold those responsible – or irresponsible, as the case may be – to account at the ballot box.
The redevelopment of The Plaza site, should it occur, will likely be the single most significant rearrangement of the Evergreen Park landscape in our lifetimes, and I mean that from visual, sensory and fiscal points of view. The loss of the Martinique to and the but as the old sign in Beverly notes, the Plaza IS the place in Evergreen Park.
Let's figure out together how to make it The Place again, and make Evergreen Park the capital of the Southwest Side.