Would New Development On Uptown’s Clark Street Help Immigrant Businesses Or ‘Upend’ Neighborhood? Residents Are Mixed

“For Sale” signs have been popping up along an Uptown retail stretch for years. A project could help turn things around, but some residents fear more building could hurt longtime business owners.

UPTOWN — A sleepy stretch of Clark Street is set to get a new apartment complex, potentially helping to reverse some of the Uptown retail corridor’s woes, proponents say.

But it might not be the only building coming to that part of the street, which worries residents who fear longtime business owners could be pushed out in a wave of development.

MCZ Development plans to build a five-story apartment building at 4511 N. Clark St., replacing a single-story retail strip. The 56-unit project received Zoning Committee approval in December and could earn final approval by City Council as early as this month.

At least two other properties on the block are for sale, including the property just south of the MCZ site. The listings look to attract the attention of builders who might want to redevelop those properties.

More than half the buildings on the four-block stretch near the MCZ site have been listed for sale in recent years, Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said at December’s zoning meeting.

“That’s a sign of a retail corridor in serious trouble,” Cappleman said. “More foot traffic can only help business.”

The listings concern some Uptown neighbors, who say the MCZ Development project sets a precedent that will usher in higher-density buildings. It could also force some of the corridor’s immigrant-owned shops to close or relocate, neighbors and landlords have said.

“When other projects follow, the east side of Clark Street will become a canyon wall,” Uptown resident Dieter Zabel said.

The real estate listing for 4509 N. Clark St. touts the neighboring MCZ Development project, saying a similar rezoning that made that possible could allow for a denser building at the site.

The 4509 N. Clark St. building is two stories with two retail businesses and two second-floor apartments. It is being offered for $1.15 million, which is less than the $1.25 million the Kim family paid for the property in 2006, Cook County property records show.

That’s because retail business along that stretch of Clark Street is down, said Rick Ofman, real estate broker with Kiser Group. To make the lot more commercially viable, building a denser complex with more apartments makes the most sense, he said.

“To justify the price point, an upzone would be necessary,” said Ofman, who is listing the building with fellow Kiser Group broker Danny Logarakis. “To get retail thriving in that area, adding density is best.”

The three-story, mixed-use building at 4533 N. Clark St. is also listed for sale for $1.5 million. The building is prime for redevelopment, with an extra 45 feet of height allowed under its current zoning, the listing states.

A building at 4537 N. Clark St. has been demolished and will be replaced with a two-story office retail corridor. One block south, at 4410 N. Clark St., MCZ Development is turning a former gym into a four-story apartment building.

Some neighbors say more development could harm a portion of Uptown that has so far escaped the booming development happening elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Uptown resident Randy Wilson, speaking at the December zoning meeting, said approving the MCZ Development rezoning would “[push] the first domino of a long line of property changes that would upend mostly businesses owned by people of color or immigrants on Clark Street.”

Architect Dieter Zabel, who lives in the Dover Street Historic District that neighbors Clark Street in Uptown, said the MCZ project is opening the floodgates to more development that is out of scale with the neighborhood.

“It is setting a precedent of other properties on Clark Street waiting to be developed,” Zabel said at the committee meeting. “They are getting the message, a zoning change seems to be very easy to get pushed through.”

Further development could outprice the area’s immigrant-owned retail and wholesale businesses, which comprise the majority of the existing commercial corridor on Clark Street, said Cynthia Azgar, who owns the building at 4653 N. Clark St.

“These are immigrants … who came here generations ago,” she said last month. “They’ve continued to have these vibrant wholesale, resale business. They’ve kept those businesses going.”

Cappleman has tried to reassure residents that while adding density to the area is helpful to retail, every project is debated on its own merits through the local zoning and development approval process. Neighbors often worry that one approved project will lead to many others in the same area, but that is not the case, he said.

“I hear that fear a lot,” Cappleman said in December. “That has never occurred in other parts of the ward that have received an upzone.”

The 4500 block of North Clark street is nestled between bustling Andersonville and Wrigleyville. Investment and development along the corridor could help Uptown’s Clark Street stretch retain some of the popular aspects of its neighboring communities, Ofman said.

“You see what Clark Street looks like half a mile north and half a mile south,” he said. “I think it could come here.”

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Kiser Group Staff