It doesn't matter whether you think the old mall should be bulldozed and turned into a town center, rebuilt as an indoor amusement park or made into a strip mall, we want to hear from you on June 28. That's when to discuss the Plaza property, the proposed plan to build a strip mall there, and other options. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. at , 3450 W. Maple St. in Evergreen Park.
Regular readers of this column know to replace the old mall, . I hope to use my time at the forum to make the case for a town center and show some examples of other dead regional malls that have been successfully redeveloped as town centers, or at least developed following a mixed-use concept.
Redeveloping the Plaza is not going to be easy. Even putting a strip mall on the old Plaza property isn't a guarantee the property will suddenly turn into a successful retail project. Times are tough; money's tight. Whoever tackles that project is going to be taking on some fairly significant financial risk. My point is that if someone is going to redevelop the property and take on that risk anyway, why not try something different? Why not build something we'll look at in 20 or 50 years and be proud of? Something that defines Evergreen Park as the capital of the Southwest Side.
I have heard from people who say they don't know anyone who would want to live above retail establishments. I do. They live in Chicago, Arlington Heights, Oak Lawn, Mount Prospect, Tinley Park and countless other communities. There is a market for mixed use development, just as there is for strip malls. I happen to believe the mixed-use market demand will grow and last longer than the demand for strip malls. I think developing mixed-use projects is a smarter investment, both in the short- and long-term. Mixing retail with residential builds a round-the-clock community, with the people who live there breathing life into the streets at all hours, not just during business hours.
I've heard people say a town center at the Plaza is too dense for Evergreen Park. To that I say if done right, it doesn't have to be. A mix of two- and three-story buildings in a town center is perfectly in line with what's along parts of 95th Street – in Beverly and in Evergreen Park. There's no need to build five-, six-, seven-stories high. That is too dense.
Some have commented that Evergreen Park can't support the denser town center-style development and that the gentrification associated with it isn't a good fit here. Two points in response: one, it would not be incumbent solely upon Evergreen Park to support a town center at the Plaza. There's Beverly, Ashburn, Morgan Park, Mount Greenwood, Oak Lawn, Blue Island. This would be a town center for the Southwest Side, potentially giving not only Evergreen Park a unique identity, but the region as well. Two, gentrification in and of itself isn't all bad. To me it's more desirable than the opposite outcome. It can also be mitigated by working to attract a mix of local, regional and national retailers offering a variety of practical goods and services – from clothes to restaurants to shoe repair. Also, town centers don't necessarily equal gentrification. Do not working-class people deserve walkable communities with businesses they need in places of which they can be proud?
I'm not trying to be a snob, here, or act like I'm some sort of urban planning expert. I'm just a guy who lives in a nice town who thinks it can be even nicer. Just like a lot of other people. Some would consider a successful strip mall and the resulting sales tax revenue to be a huge win for the village. And it would be - no question it absolutely would be. But to me, if we could build something that not only brings in that additional sales tax revenue we need but also additional property tax revenue and that also makes a bold statement about the value of building a place we can care about instead of just visit on occasion … well that would really be something. And something different.