Retail site planned for Madison Street

Major development project planned for neglected business nook east of Cicero in North Lawndale's K-Town

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By LA RISA LYNCH

Little Caesar Pizza, Harris Bank and a YMCA job training center are likely tenants for a new commercial development on Madison Street, scheduled to open summer of 2009.

But the development site, located at 4450 West Madison Street, marks a milestone for this thoroughfare marked by mostly abandoned buildings and vacant lots. The 18,000 square-foot retail and office complex is the first major, large-scale development on Madison Street east of Cicero in nearly 20 years.

Last Friday, city officials and community leaders donned hardhats and held shovels for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the development to be built on a vacant city-owned lot on Kilbourn and Madison Street.

"This is a good shot in the arm," said Ald. Ed Smith (28), stressing that the West Side's time has come for its own revitalization. Smith added that other parts of the city have undergone similar efforts while the West Side has been stagnant.

New construction is part of that revitalization, Smith contends, explaining while the West Side has its share of new businesses, the majority have opened in rehabbed structures.

"We have to build things other than service stations," he said. "We don't want any more liquor stores. We have to build solid businesses that give us a strong business resource that will help us grow the community."

Ernestine King, executive director of the Greater Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce agreed, and she hopes the development will help attract new retail to the area, stemming the flow of retail dollars leaving the community.

King cited a 2006 Metro Edge analysis showing the Greater Garfield Park community losing a total of $44.9 million in five retail areas: groceries, apparel, drugs stores, restaurants and home improvement. Residents, she said, want all types of businesses than just hip-hop clothing stores, including a major grocery store and service businesses such as legal and real estate agencies.

"There are a lot of opportunities for a lot of different types of businesses that the people actually need [but] go to other places to get. We need new businesses to create jobs, to provide services and resources to the community because we are limited in it."

The Madison development consists of two all-brick buildings with curved arches. One building will face Madison Street while the other will face Kilbourn. Parking will be in the rear. Additionally, the buildings will feature the latest in green technology, including energy efficient water heaters, solar panels and a white roof reflecting sunlight to keep the buildings cool.

The site's general contractor, Marion Hill Co., also plans to use minority contractors, hoping to succeed the city's hiring goal, but would not specify by how much. But the goal would also include employing residents from the community as laborers and will use the alderman's office as a clearinghouse for applicants.

But Chip Hastings, assistant commissioner with the city's Department of Planning and Development, is glad to see the project get off the ground, noting it has been a challenge bringing retail to the area.

"One of the challenges dealing with retailers anywhere is they have a heard mentality," he said, hoping the project would spark more development on Madison. "They are always afraid to be the first one to do anything."

The project's developer, Tam Tran, shares that goal, having purchased the property because it was on Madison. The North Side condo developer sees the street's direct link to downtown as a possible selling point for other retailers to open shop on Madison. According to Ald. Smith, other retail development plans are already on the drawing board, including projects along Madison at the intersections of Cicero, Lavergne and Kedzie streets.

"There's a lot of new stuff that's on our plate," he said. "It is a beginning of a new day for development on the West Side."

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