Community members met on June 6 for a public hearing on the proposed zoning map amendment that would allow a 44-room boutique hotel and restaurant to open in the former Grace’s Furniture building (2618 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa hosted the meeting at the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in collaboration with the 35th Ward’s Community Driven Zoning and Development Tables.
Hotel Plans Come to Life
Plans for the vacant commercial structure come from Marc Realty and LG Development, hotel operator Holiday Jones and restaurateurs The Fifty/50 Group. As Zoning Map Amendment Applicants, the developers presented plans to the community using photos, artist renderings, and blueprints. The developers predicted the hotel will draw tourists, increasing patronage at local restaurants, retail, and entertainment venues. They also estimated the project will add 100 full-time jobs to the community. Other plans for the building include a rooftop restaurant, retail space, and an outdoor seating area.
The developers highlighted their collaboration with Ramirez-Rosa, Logan Square Preservation and Logan Square Neighborhood Association. The groups worked together to ensure that the Paseo Prairie Garden, located next to the building on the corner of Milwaukee and Kedzie, would remain public space. The developers also chose to re-purpose the original Grace’s Furniture sign, incorporating it into the design for the hotel’s facade.
Out of the more than 100 people in attendance, over 20 lined up to speak during the Q&A section of the meeting. Many offered their support for the project, noting the building has been a vacant eyesore for years.
“I think we all agree that that corner right now is not particularly attractive, and what these gentlemen are proposing is a dramatic improvement,” said Bill Thurman, member of Logan Square Preservation. Another community member said, “I’m tired of seeing a bare, ugly, worn down building on this block.”
However, there wasn’t unanimous support for the proposed development.
Resident Edith Bautista felt the hotel would compromise the character of the neighborhood, turning it into a “small Wrigleyville.”
“Is this more gentrification?” asked another resident, concerned the hotel will cause rental prices in the neighborhood to increase further.
Resident Isaac Maria argued the neighborhood needs more housing, not a hotel. “The building sits empty…until they can make a buck, then we get luxury housing and luxury hotels. That’s not right,” Maria said.
Two speakers requested that the developers and operators hire union labor for the construction and staffing of the hotel.
Another asked if the project could cause a disruption to the flow of traffic on Milwaukee. She suggested a dedicated drop-off zone to ensure buses and bicyclists could still travel unobstructed. Other attendees speculated that a hotel could make it even more difficult to park around the neighborhood. Holiday Jones plans to use the Emmett Street parking lot for self-service and valet hotel parking.
Another resident and social worker expressed humanitarian concerns for individuals who sleep near the building. She said she wants to know if there has been talk about getting people who are homeless in the area into job programs to work in the business.
“We all know them as neighbors and members of our community,” said the resident. “When private investment comes in, often times the surveillance of poor people increases and those people are displaced. It’s happened all the way up the blue line from Wicker Park.”
Holiday Jones and The Fifty/50 Group responded by saying they plan to work with Center for Changing Lives to hire locally for hotel and restaurant staff, as the Dill Pickle did when they moved to Milwaukee Avenue.
Comment forms counted after the meeting reflected 105 in favor and 11 against the proposed zoning amendment. Ramirez-Rosa’s office is taking public feedback until June 20. Comments can be submitted in person at Ramirez-Rosa’s office at 2710 N. Sawyer Ave. or by phone (773) 887-3772.