The city of Chicago and the Chicago Public Library system are looking to buy a portion of the former U.S. Bank building at 6700 W. North Ave., where Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) hopes to move the Galewood branch library.

Since 2010, the current Galewood-Mont Clare branch library has been confined to a single room at Rutherford Sayre Park Fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave. Many Galewood residents, including Taliaferro, have pushed for a larger space.

When developers announced plans to renovate the old bank building, Taliaferro urged them to set aside some first-floor commercial space for a new Galewood library. While the developer, Five Thirty One Partners, has been receptive to the idea, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) system has said the site is just one of numerous possible locations.

During his Sept 21 ward meeting, Taliaferro said that the city is now looking into buying the space, comparing the arrangement to buying a condominium inside a building. Owner Viktor Jakovljevic would retain the ownership of the rest of the property.

Taliaferro said that, in early September, the city contracted with an appraiser to determine the value of the space and how much it would cost to build out and furnish it. While he didn’t have a concrete timeline, he said in a follow-up interview that he expects the city to decide whether to move ahead with the purchase by “late fall/early winter.”

The current Galewood-Montclare library hasn’t been open since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When most city libraries reopened on June 8, 2020, it was among the three that stayed closed because its small size made social distancing difficult. The library remained closed even as most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

The plans for the redevelopment of the U.S. Bank site went through multiple iterations since they were first presented to the community in 2019. The current vision calls for the bank building to have commercial tenants on the first floor and apartments on the first and second floors.

Five Thirty One Partners and Jakovljevic have remained open to setting aside around 11,000 to 12,000 square feet for the Galewood branch library but the lease terms and a funding source for the rental payments have been unresolved issues.

Jakovljevic previously indicated that the development would open in early 2023. He declined to comment on the library.

The city’s library system doesn’t have its own capital budget, so it must rely on other sources to cover the costs of getting a new branch up and running. In 2019, State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th) and Senate President Don Harmon (39th) included a $600,000 appropriation for a new Galewood library in the Rebuild Illinois capital bill. The two legislators subsequently secured another $7 million. The money isn’t tied to any specific location and Lilly said that the funding can be used to either build a new library from scratch or build within a larger space, but not to pay rent.

Tom Drebenstedt, a member of the Rutherford Sayre Park Advisory Council who has been co-leading the push for a larger Galewood library for over a decade, said that he suggested something similar in 2019, but “the developer wasn’t interested.”

“[I suggested] that, since the library was interested in ownership rather than renting, why don’t we explore splitting the building, as you would in the condo?” he said.

CPL spokesperson Patrick Molloy didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Drebenstedt said he was skeptical that the latest development would move the needle.

“That building is so far behind schedule,” he said. “When I see it, I’ll believe it. My career was in commercial construction and I told the aldermen, ‘We put up high-rises in half the time of this project.’”

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...