Is Wrigleyville having growing pains?


08.17.10 at 8:27 AM

Artist’s rendition of the Addison Park on Clark construction.

Cubs fans spill out of Wrigley Field after games, many stumbling into one of the three dozen-plus bars steps away from the ballpark.
Cabbies honk, pedicabs pick up rides and drivers sit still in traffic jams along the way. That’s the Wrigleyville many know and love.

But is the area around the corner of Clark and Addison streets about to change? With a flurry of neighborhood development projects in the works, some wonder whether Wrigleyville will retain its frat-party charm or if high-profile construction will change all that.

The neighborhood’s significant projects–all under construction or approved for development–include a new police station, a boutique hotel and an eight-story tall, mixed-use project of a hotel, apartments and retail space, which was approved last month by the City Council.

It’s the last project–Addison Park on Clark–that some residents fear could change the landscape and alter the identity of the neighborhood as many know it. Project supporters say the development will enhance the neighborhood.

The neighborhood within the Lakeview community area doesn’t have any official boundaries, though its heart is the iconic and historic Wrigley Field. Wrigleyville is home to a hodgepodge of old graystones and new brick apartments, condos and single-family homes, a slew of bars and a smorgasbord of eateries. Peppered among the main streets are places such as souvenir shops, iO comedy theater and the Metro concert venue. Some are independent businesses, but not all are mom and pop shops.

“The area to me is a very unique area, very eclectic area. It’s not something that can be replicated,” said Ed Cisek, 21, a student who has lived in Wrigleyville for three years. But it can be destroyed, he said. In the place of buildings that house businesses such as iO and Salt & Pepper Diner will go what Cisek considers a generic building in the Addison Park on Clark project.

Rachael Moeller, 29, one of the 13,000-plus members of the Facebook group People Against the “Malling of Wrigleyville,” said the Addison Park on Clark project looks cookie-cutter and doesn’t offer anything special to the unique neighborhood.

“If you want generic Americana, go out to the suburbs,” the Old Irving Park resident said. “I made a choice not to live in the suburbs. Why are we forcing that on us?”

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he is aware of some neighborhood opposition on projects but has worked with the community and negotiated with developers to craft compromises, including a scaled-down version of Addison Park on Clark.

“I’m confident we’re moving in the right direction,” Tunney said.

Wrigleyville is no stranger to change or controversy. Last year, the billionaire Ricketts family took ownership of the Cubs from Tribune Co., which owns RedEye. Some residents and baseball fans groaned over the construction of the Toyota sign at Wrigley Field in June, the expansion of the bleachers in 2006 and the installation of lights for night games back in 1988.

And even more changes possibly could be on the way. The Tribune reported that the rooftop clubs surrounding the park would like to open ground-level shops but currently are prohibited from doing so under the zoning that governs them.

Gus Isacson, executive director of the Central Lakeview Merchants Association, said the Addison Park on Clark development is “going to polish up what is there.”

The new development will provide more exposure and attention to business, he said. A strong anchor is needed on the street, he said.

The hotel will also provide fans, performers and parents visiting their children who live nearby a place to stay in the neighborhood instead of downtown, he said.

The Addison Park on Clark site now lacks consistency and architectural style, said project developer Anthony Rossi Sr., president of M&R Development. Older buildings and gravel parking lots sit on the land.

“Frankly, the neighborhood cries for redevelopment on that particular parcel,” he said.

Rossi said the project went through a process of community meetings for three years before it was accepted by many residents, Tunney and the city.

Cisek, a project opponent, believes the mixed-use development will snarl traffic–especially during its construction phase, displace businesses and set a precedent for other developers to request approval for tall, dense projects.

Tunney disputes that an individual project will change the entire community and says such projects could help the neighborhood thrive year-round.  “I believe what some of these developments provide are amenities 365 days a year, rather than up and down with the Cubs’ success,” Tunney said.

On game days now, it’s hard to get around the neighborhood, especially on Clark and Addison, said Jill Peters, president of the Southport Neighbors Association and resident since 1998. Adding more development to the area will make the gridlock worse, she said. Plus, the project still is too big, she said.

“It has a lot of people likening it to Bourbon Street because it has its own energy and draw aside from Wrigley. But when you start mixing in big box retail, it just becomes overwhelming to the surrounding neighborhood,” Peters said.

No retailers have been lined up yet, Rossi said. “You’re not going to have mammoth big box operations,” he said.

The developer has had discussions with Hyatt on the hotel portion. Construction could start as early as next spring, he said. Once built, businesses there now will get the option to return to the site.

Part of the neighborhood charm is that Wrigleyville is not filled with big box retailers, said Jay Schwartz, co-owner of T-shirt shop Strange Cargo. But he thinks it’d be great if the development brings more customers who want to spend money.

While the corner of Clark and Addison might look physically different, Schwartz said, “If Wrigley Field stays and the bars are all here, then I don’t think the neighborhood’s character will change all that much.”

How has Wrigleyville changed?

Recently, Peter Alter, archivist at the Chicago History Museum, came across a 1950s photo of the ballpark, which was built in 1914 and has been home to the Cubs since 1916. “It was not a cool place to be other than to go to a game,” Alter said. Industrial factories lined Clark Street in the photo, he said. “There was not the bars and nightclubs and theaters or any of that.”

The rise of Wrigleyville started in the 1980s, Alter said. He hasn’t seen a reference of “Wrigleyville” that predates that time.

That’s when the Tribune Company, which owns RedEye, bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field. As older ballparks started disappearing in the ’70s and ’80s, WGN, also owned by the Tribune Company, broadcasted games seen throughout the country. Tourists started visiting Wrigley Field and the intensified interest triggered redevelopment of the neighborhood, he said.

Wrigleyville was a predominantly white, working-class neighborhood with a sizable Latino population when young urban professionals, who could afford more expensive rents, started to move to the area in the 1980s, Alter said.

The neighborhood began gentrifiying in the mid-to late-’80s in part because of the accelerated housing market and urban living became hip and cool, said Euan Hague, an associate professor of geography at DePaul University.

Prior to that, the development of Boystown started in the late 1970s and early-to mid-1980s when more gay people moved in. Some of those new residents had money to renovate homes and invest in small businesses, pushing the value of property up, Hague said.
The surrounding blocks also rose in value. (In the past 5 to 10 years, gays have moved out of the enclave and spread out through the city because there was less of a need for a gay-focused neighborhood as more people became tolerant and accepting, he said.)
The new development of Addison Park on Clark could nudge Wrigleyville to continue on its path of becoming more upscale, Hague said.

RedEye Chicago

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