During 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro's regular community meeting, held April 18 at Rutherford Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden Ave., residents got their first look at some possible plans that developers are considering for the site of the shuttered Sears, located at the intersection of North and Harlem Avenues.
Representatives with Seritage Growth Properties, the site's owner, and Tucker Development, unveiled preliminary plans for the site that calls for transforming the existing building into mixed-use development, with retail on the first floor and loft-style apartments and town halls above it. The site would also feature a parking lot with more greenery.
Although preliminary, the developers' presentation was meant to outline for residents possible development plans for the site and to solicit public input.
Seritage is a spin-off of Sears' real estate holdings arm. The firm owns 250 of its former parent company's stores in the Chicago area and elsewhere, said Jeff Martin, Seritage's vice president of development. When a store closes, Martin said, Seritage tries to figure out a way to redevelop the site.
Seritage selected to partner with Tucker Development, a firm based in Highland Park that develops commercial and mixed-use properties in Illinois and New Jersey, according to Tucker's website.
Company CEO Richard Tucker and his son, Aaron Tucker, the company's chief investment officer, were on hand to go into more detail about the plans. The younger Tucker emphasized that his company was committed to listening to the community all the way through.
"Being involved in the community is something we take a lot of pride in," he said. "We look forward to getting to know your community."
The current plan calls for the developers to turn the first floor of the existing building into commercial space that will be able to host smaller retail and/or entertainment spaces. The remaining two floors will be turned into "loft-style" apartments.
The developers could also build three more floors on top of the building, which would be turned into more modern-style apartments. Tucker Development is also considering building town homes along Wabansia Avenue.
The idea, developers said, is to create a separation between the homes to the north and the building's parking lot. They also plan to add landscaping along the remaining portions of the parking lot. The Sears Auto Center on the Elmwood Park side of Harlem Avenue will be part of the development and will be converted into retail.
The older Tucker said that developers hope to break ground some time in 2019. He said that it may take up to two years to develop, construct and reopen the site.
"We truly believe that this will be a great project," Richard Tucker said.
The developers said that they have already hired a traffic engineer to assess the project's impact on traffic and indicated that they'll work with the city and the Illinois Department of Transportation on any traffic-related issues that may come up in the process.
Taliaferro said during the meeting that the development would be "a wonderful opportunity," particularly in light of the recent wave of retail closures enveloping the country.
"Oftentimes, when a store goes out of business, it stays closed for a long time," Taliaferro said. "It's wonderful to have a group revitalizing this property [and putting] this community first."
Judith Alexander, the chairwoman of The North Avenue District community group who also attended last week's meeting, said that she was happy to see a mixed-use development.
She pointed out that an urban planning expert once told her that the North/Harlem intersection experiences a volume of commuter traffic — both with cars and public transportation — that rivals "mass transit stations."
Alexander said that the former Sears site is "a large enough parcel that you can really establish a community."
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