Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) addresses constituents during his first ward community meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

While much of Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s (29th) May 17 ward community meeting focused on the proposed development of the North/Narragansett Walgreens site, he also updated the community on other developments in Galewood.

The meeting marked his first in-person community session since the COVID winter of 2020. It was held at the Rutherford-Sayre Park fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave., where he held community meetings for the north half of the ward before the pandemic. Taliaferro said he plans to hold more in-person meetings that would cover more parts of the ward, though he was still trying to secure some locations.

During the meeting, Taliaferro updated residents about the state of the redevelopment of the former North/Harlem Sears site. While things are proceeding as planned west of Neva Avenue, plans for building apartments east of Neva have been paused due to concerns about construction costs.

When asked about the state of the possible new Galewood branch library at the former U.S. Bank building at 6700 W. North Ave., Taliaferro said the developer, the city and the Chicago Public Library system are currently negotiating how much the city would pay for a condo-like purchase of the first-floor section of the building the library would use.

The plans for the North/Harlem Sears redevelopment were originally developed by Tucker Development company. It called for remodeling the Sears department store building into a mixed-use and building 16 apartments on the east lot. The Chicago City Council approved those plans in 2019 as Planned Unit Developments, which means that the developer can’t deviate from those plans without city council approval.

In September 2020, the property was sold to Chicago-based Novak Construction, which decided to stick with Tucker’s plans for the east parcel but to demolish the Sears building and build something fully commercial instead.

Novak eventually agreed to lease most of the west portion of the property to Rush University Medical Center, which is planning to build a 60,000-square-foot outpatient facility which will offer primary and specialty care services such as cancer treatments, neurology and cardiology services. Taliaferro told Austin Weekly News the city council still needs to approve Rush’s plans, but there is no firm timeline for that vote.

During the May 17 meeting, he said Novak is still looking for a tenant for the south portion of the site.

“They’re still in negotiations, talking with another retail grocer as well,” he said, saying that, due to the non-disclosure agreement in place, he couldn’t give any specifics.

Taliaferro said the residential portion of the development “is being held off for a little bit longer” due to rising labor costs and the cost of construction materials.

“When you have to pay extra money for materials and labor, the project doubles and triples,” he said.

Meanwhile, plans for Galewood library branch has been an ongoing topic of discussion since the branch moved to a room at the Rutherford-Sayre fieldhouse in 2010 – something that was only supposed to be a temporary arrangement. The most recent version of the plan calls for the library to occupy most of the first floor of the former U.S. Bank building.

During a September 2022 community meeting, Taliaferro said that the library system was looking to buy the first-floor space from the owner, developer Viktor Jakovljevic, comparing it to buying a condo.

During the May 27 meeting, Taliaferro said the city sent an appraiser, and the price the appraiser came up with was too low for Jakovljevic. After some back and forth, the library system agreed the price was probably too low, so it’s sending a different appraiser. Taliaferro said that this may take another “3-4 months.”

Galewood Neighbors President Steve Green said he knew Jakovlievic, and that, to the best of his knowledge, the original appraiser was a residential appraiser, which may have affected the price. He also said the developer still wants the branch to come in, but he couldn’t afford to let the negotiations drag out for too long, because he has to recoup his investment.

“I know the developer — he wants to fill the 12,000 square feet,” he said. He made the space for the library, and he worked with the city to do everything [he needed to do] as far as the code.”

29th Ward community meeting plans

Before the pandemic, Taliaferro held two regular community meetings – one for the south half of the ward every first Wednesday of the month at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., and one for the north half every third Wednesday at Rutherford-Sayre Park fieldhouse.

Throughout the pandemic, he held meetings on Zoom every third Wednesday of the month.

During the May 17 community meeting, Taliaferro said the close run-off election taught him that he could be better at communicating with his constituents, and he decided to make the community meetings more neighborhood oriented.

Rutherford-Sayre meetings will be geared toward Galewood, and the Refectory meetings will be geared toward South Austin portions of the ward. He is currently in conversations to hold the North Austin community meeting in Amundsen Park fieldhouse, 6200 W. Bloomingdale Ave., and a community meeting for the Island neighborhood at the G.R. Clark Elementary School, 1045 S. Monitor Ave.

Taliaferro said that he’s also looking for a meeting geared toward the Montclare and Dunning portions of the ward. He told Austin Weekly that, as of May 23, he was close to nailing down the exact dates and times for those meetings.

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...