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All Ideas Welcome for Open Discussion About Plaza Redevelopment

The goal of Patch's forum is to generate ideas for the property to give to the village board, so the community is on record as having some preferences.

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.

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EP Lover June 13, 2012 at 03:51 PM
While there is a lot of commercial potential for the Plaza site, the challenges this site faces are apparent by looking at the many issues the nearby Walmart regularly encounters in terms of crime and the less than desirable population the store attracts. Whether Mr. Clair is willing to admit it or not, the location of the Plaza is going to attract a wide range of people - not only residents of EP, Beverly, etc but also those from blighted Chicago neighborhoods. With the recent uptick in Chicago shootings and incidence of violence creeping closer and closer to Beverly & EP, there is a very real possibility that the Plaza could attract unwanted attention and patronage. This possibility, coupled with the regularly reportedly incidents of theft reported at Walmart, could make living at a mixed use development an extremely undesirable prospect - at least at the Plaza location (in another location, it could be appealing). To be continued next post......
EP Lover June 13, 2012 at 04:02 PM
While I applaud Mr. Clair in anticipating what failure of Plaza development might look like some years into the future, I believe he is short sighted in not considering how a mixed use development might fail. If the housing units fail to attract renters or buyers (a very real possibility in the current real estate market), what happens to them? Do they remain empty and subject to vandalism, vagrancy or potentially become Section 8 housing or some other form of low income housing project? If the housing units fall to attract the desired residents how does that impact the site's retail establishments? I think it should also be acknowledged that any retailer who chooses to do business on the Plaza site needs to be able to successfully absorb losses from shoplifting and theft - an economic factor that may preclude local businesses from choosing the location. I don't know what should go at the Plaza location given the unique challenges of the location and think the evaluation of any proposed development needs to look at the potential negative impact. I don't think Mr. Clair has carefully considered the downsides to his own proposals and fervently wish that his was not the only voice in the discussion. I hope the meeting on the 28th is well attended and that we hear from many other EP residents about their thoughts for the location
Southside Supporter June 13, 2012 at 05:06 PM
You are on track Chris! I believe that the comprehensive presentation of a well thought out blueprint for a regionally contextual retail development plan with executable steps and goals, in an effort to work towards the Village of Evergreen Park becoming the "capital of the Southwest Side", will be extremely beneficial for residents and businesses. I will be out of the state for the meeting but please include as many environmentally friendly LEED initiatives as you can, along with walkable/bikable routes for the surrounding areas. Safety is a huge concern for our area so I think that there is a need for plans to address personal safety (police emergency boxes, cameras, security guards etc.), traffic (countdown lights for pedestrians and bikes) and Village safety (limited number of liquor/gambling licenses/sales, no weapons/ammunition, and no 24 hour businesses). We cannot sacrifice our safety for $$$.
Southside Supporter June 13, 2012 at 05:06 PM
The aesthetic component of this development will be extremely important as it will be the main entrance to the Village from Chicago. We need to bring the “green” back to Evergreen Park. The overall architectural structures should be a combination of a timeless and a forward thinking/modern design, incorporating the friendliness of the past with the convenience of the future. That being said, this development will need to differentiate itself from any other developments if only for the fact that these types of large scale retail developments are no longer being built. If the original designs for the Meijer/Menards Evergreen Golf Course development are still being followed, the Old Evergreen Plaza businesses will gain much more of a long term benefit from their contrasting “Village and neighborhood inclusive design” rather than “use the cheapest materials, you’re just lucky you’ll be able to shop here design” of the Big Box stores.
Southside Supporter June 13, 2012 at 05:26 PM
With much respect, I appreciate EP Lovers comments, and the points that were raised. It's this type of neighbor insight and candor that’s required for the June 28th open forum to be successful. We all know the last 50 years of history and the missteps of the previous property owners, but this is the time to employ that knowledge base for the good of the area and the next 50 years. I don’t think Chris is saying that it’s his way or nothing. I think Chris is trying to open the lines of communication so that the information and the feelings we have about the Evergreen Plaza are being taken to account, rather than just being told what we are going to get and that’s it. I appreciate the feeling of empowerment, if nothing else. Tell your friends and neighbors to come to the June 28th meeting so that their voices can be heard too.
Renita Young June 14, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Thanks for sharing your ideas everyone. This the exact point of our forum, to encourage residents to make suggestions and essentially participate in their very own community development. If you won't be able to attend the event in-person, we will be live blogging from evergreenpark.patch.com. More information to come in tomorrow morning's edition of Evergreen Park Patch. Thank you! Renita Young Editor, Evergreen Park Patch
Chris Clair June 14, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Don't worry, EP Lover, this forum isn't my show. As a resident, I plan to share my thoughts, but those should be brief. As the moderator, I'm there to listen to what everyone else has to say, help facilitate the discussion and record the ideas. With respect to the Plaza plans, no doubt many share your concerns about crime. To me, one of the benefits of mixed-use development is that the area doesn't empty out after businesses close. The people who live there remain and act as eyes on the street, looking out for their neighborhood. When people are on the streets, and watching the streets, that can act as a crime deterrent. We control what goes on on our streets, not the criminals. As for the economic uncertainty, that's absolutely real, but it would be true with any development. The strip mall may fail to attract retail tenants, in which case we're left with empty storefronts and a vacant parking lot, which also seems like a pretty strong magnet for criminal behavior. To extend the housing analogy to retail, then what happens when the mall owners start plugging in any rent-paying tenants? That way lies trouble, too. Speaking only for me, I would rather plan for the long-term and adapt in the short-term than plan for the short term. I think you and I are in agreement that we do not like strip malls, so let's start there and work toward an agreeable solution that simply doesn't include them.
Chris Clair June 14, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Excellent points, Southside Supporter. The importance of greenspace, safety, environmentally friendly design and access for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as aesthetics should all be part of the conversation on the 28th.
anita garrison June 28, 2012 at 05:46 PM
It would be nice to have a movie theatre there-a small one, maybe 2 or 3 screens, that would show some of the "art" films (for want of a better word). The ones that come to the film fests and get good reviews but never make it past the north side. And, all cell phones,ipads,kindles,etc. would have to be checked in the lobby :).
Megan Boguszko July 10, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I've just moved to the neighborhood, and am loving it for so many reasons. One major drawback for my family, however, is that we must make 1-2 trips per week to the South Loop, Hyde Park, Wicker Park, for our necessities, i.e. organic produce, other natural/organic groceries, grass fed beef, quality clothing, and natural pet supplies. We would love to support local business, but at this time, we can't without compromising our preferences. It would be life changing for us (and sounds like others) to upgrade the choices around here. To us, this is the missing link on the South Side. We've got good people, nice homes, good schools and community involvement/events - better than the north side in all those departments. However, a big nothing in terms resident focused consumer goods. It's almost like our neighborhoods (EP and Beverly) feel the need to provide more for the food and commerce deserts to the east, than to their own residents. Most people I have met, either travel further south to Palos and Orland, west to Hinsdale, or north like us. I just registered here on the Patch and will look to get involved in this project. Great site!

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