Workers at the site of the former Sears on North and Harlem in Galewood in 2019. | File

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said that Novak Construction, the current developer of the former North/Harlem Sears site, turned down Jewel-Osco’s request to become an anchor tenant, choosing to negotiate with a healthcare company instead.

The alderman, whose ward includes the site and the surrounding Galewood neighborhood, updated the community on the current state of the long-vacant site during an Aug. 30 virtual meeting, which was attended by around 50 people.

Taliaferro said that Jewel-Osco reached out to him in June and made numerous overtures to Novak. He said that he supported the grocer coming to the property, but that, in early August, Jake Paschen, Novak’s executive vice president of development, informed him that they decided to go with the healthcare tenant instead.

 Taliaferro said that he couldn’t name the developer, citing a potential non-disclosure agreement. He said that, while he personally saw the change of plan as “a betrayal” of the community that has been asking for a grocery store, he would put his feelings aside if the community wanted him to support the medical facility.

Taliaferro said that he wants to organize a follow-up community meeting where residents will get to hear directly from Novak officials about their plans. He hopes to schedule the meeting for the middle of this month.

After the North/Harlem Sears closed, Seritage Growth Holdings, Sears’ former real estate arm that was spun off as a separate company, hired Tucker Development to redevelop the original store site and adjacent parking lot. After several revisions, Tucker settled on building townhomes on the east portion, and expanding the original store building into a mixed-use development with a grocery store on the first floor.

After Seritage sold its Chicago properties to Chicago-based Novak Construction in August 2020, the new owner decided to keep the parking lot portion of the plan the same, demolish the Sears building and build a new grocery store, two retail buildings and a drive-through restaurant. According to Taliaferro, Novak hopes to start the construction of the residential portion this fall.

During the Aug. 30 meeting, Taliaferro said in June he learned that the Jewel-Osco and a healthcare provider were vying for the space in the development. He said that Jewel-Osco reached out to his office asking for support. The alderman said that he was “excited” to offer his support, given the lack of grocery stores in the area.

“[Jewel-Osco] wanted a full-service, community grocery store to serve as their flagship location,” Taliaferro said.

But around three weeks ago, Paschen informed Taliaferro that a grocery tenant “was no longer the goal” and they were going with the healthcare tenant instead.

The alderman said that he heard conflicting versions of what happened, with Jewel-Osco representatives telling him that Novak ignored their overtures while Novak said Jewel-Osco was slow to respond to its follow-up inquiries.

Attempts to reach Jewel-Osco and Novak for comment by Friday were unsuccessful.

Taliaferro said that he hasn’t seen any renderings but that Pascen told them the business would face Harlem Avenue and it would have a similar footprint as the proposed grocery store of 40,000 square feet and two to three stories tall.

He said that it was “a very reputable entity” in the healthcare field and would provide a variety of health services but the alderman declined to share any details until Novak has a chance to present its proposal.

“I put my faith in Novak Development and that they would listen to our request for a quality grocery store and I don’t feel it was listened to,” Taliaferro said.

In a recent interview, Judith Alexander, the North Avenue District chair, said she wants to hear more about Novak’s updated proposal.

“I sympathize with [Taliaferro’s] disappointment, I sympathize with the community’s disappoint, but I want to keep an open mind and hear Novak’s plans,” she said.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...