Storage, retail could give Portage Park vacant lot new life after 15 years

Bernard Edelman is taking another crack at a lot where multiple previous attempts at development have failed

Bernard Edelman, principal of Innovative Markets, Inc. and renderings of the project
Bernard Edelman, principal of Innovative Markets, Inc. and renderings of the project

After two recent attempts failed to get anything built on one of the largest vacant lots on the city’s Northwest Side, a local developer is back with another pitch.

Bernard Edelman of Innovative Markets Inc. is asking city leaders to get behind a proposal to build a four-story self-storage warehouse with 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail at the corner of Waveland and Central avenues in the Portage Park neighborhood.

Edelman’s proposal cleared the Chicago Plan Commission last month and is scheduled to be considered at the next meeting of the City Council’s Zoning Committee.

The 2-acre lot at 3633 North Central Avenue has sat vacant since 2004, when it was one of a dozen Dominick’s grocery stores closed in 2004. The site remains the only former Dominick’s in the region that was never adapted or redeveloped.

A CVS store was later built on the south half of the Dominick’s property, but the north section facing Waveland Avenue has been barren ever since.

Edelman called the lot “one of the trophy corners” in Portage Park, which he said “hasn’t gotten the attention and investment it deserves.” The site is a block away from the 299-bed Community First Medical Center and sees nearly 47,000 passing cars each day, according to a marketing flyer from CBRE.

In 2016, affordable housing developer Full Circle Communities proposed building a 55-unit mixed-income complex on the site, but Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) scuttled the plan amid intense opposition from neighbors.

Full Circle went on to propose a larger housing complex in Jefferson Park, which then-neighboring Alderman John Arena (45th) supported despite similar opposition from neighbors. The development was later approved, but Arena lost his bid for reelection this year to challenger Jim Gardiner.

In 2017, Edelman’s Innovative Markets paid about $1.6 million to buy the grassy lot from Heidner Properties, according to Cook County property tax records. He proposed a 66-bed assisted-living facility that would have been operated by Anthem Memory Care.

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But that proposal died later that year when LTC Properties, the publicly-traded REIT that backed development of Anthem facilities, pulled the plug. The REIT issued a default notice after Anthem fell behind in rent payments, according to Senior Housing News.

Edelman then went back to local neighborhood groups, who “prioritized a retail presence to revitalize what was a previously thriving retail sector” in the area, he said. Villegas also urged the developer to include retail on the site.

At the same time, developer Ryan Companies was proposing its own assisted-living facility at the nearby Six Corners intersection of Irving Park Road, Cicero and Milwaukee avenues. That proposal stalled this year, when Gardiner took office and slammed the brakes on city approval.

In April, Edelman went public with his plan for a 110,000-square-foot commercial storage space with room for five unspecified retailers. The facility would include three heated loading bays with 15-foot height clearance.

The site lies in a “doughnut-hole” for storage facilities, with no competitors within a mile radius, Edelman said.

Villegas said it’s been difficult to market the space to major retailers, who tend to seek busier intersections and often don’t look far from the city’s Downtown and inner-ring neighborhoods. He added that residential outer neighborhoods like Portage Park are “neglected” by many real estate pros who miss its value.

“There’s a high median household income in this area, and there aren’t a lot of (commercial) vacancies.” Villegas added. “And now we’re seeing a lot of families moving from West Town and Lakeview and realizing a gain by purchasing a bungalow on the Northwest Side.”

The developer is requesting $3.3 million in tax increment financing from the city, and the city’s planning department is reviewing the request, the alderman said.

The next zoning committee meeting is scheduled for June 25.