Make Harlem ‘the place to be’ for young people, alderman says

 

Hipster housing on Harlem in the Heights?

Not as far-fetched as some might think, a Palos Heights alderman told his colleagues at a City Council committee-of-the-whole meeting last month.

In a discussion of how adding a layer of residences—apartments or condominiums—could possibly pump life into the city’s Harlem Avenue business corridor, Alderman Michael McGrogan (4th Ward) said that Palos Heights could conceivably rival Chicago’s North Side as a dining, entertainment and living option for twentysomethings.

“Apartments, by far, are the biggest segment of real estate in the country,” McGrogan said at the meeting, held May 26 at City Hall. “This millennial generation, which are kids…they have an entirely different view than just about everyone in this room. What they’re looking for is mobility. Baby boomers would stay at their first jobs an average of 12-13 years. The kids of the boomers are averaging 18 months before they move on.

“[Young people] don’t want to be tied down with a house in the suburbs,” the alderman added. “They want to go where the action is…if you think Sam Buca’s and Joe Daniel’s are busy, go down to Lincoln Park or Bucktown. They’re jammed because the kids all want to go there.”Buca’s and

McGrogan said he favors allowing apartments to be built above businesses on Harlem Avenue because “it will maybe attract some of the kids of the parents that live here” and that “they would stay in town, spend the money and not have to race [to Chicago’s North Side] to all these bars and restaurants.”

The alderman also cited a statistic showing that for the first time ever, more consumer dollars are being spent at restaurants than at grocery stores, a trend driven by young people.

“That’s all the kids do. They take their money and go out and eat and drink—and I’m not sure about that order, either,” McGrogan added, drawing a few laughs from his colleagues.

Not so fast

Others at the meeting had their reservations.

Alderman Robert Basso (2nd Ward) expressed skepticism about any rush to build residences about the businesses on Harlem, saying that he has not seen any surge in demand for rental housing, and what demand is out there may already be met by rentals of single-family homes and condo units.

Even if there were a consensus that adding residences to the Harlem Avenue is a good thing, several aldermen noted that it could be an uphill battle, saying that getting the several dozen landlords on the strip to agree to anything is a challenge, to say the least.

         Others pointed to Brigid Capital’s Mike Coogan, who appears to be pioneering the mixed-use concept successfully at his company’s new Palos Place development, 12306 S. Harlem Ave.

Where to park

Parking would also be squeezed if residences were added along the Harlem Avenue corridor, and the city filled vacant storefronts with non-retail businesses and decided to reduce parking requirements as an inducement to development, one alderman said.

“We’re going to reduce the parking required while increasing the density,” Basso said. “We can look at Capri and Joe Daniel’s and a couple of other places in town that already have taken over tremendous amounts of communal parking, if you will.”

Basso added that if nearby vacant storefronts become filled with thriving retail businesses, then “we obviously are going to have a big problem”—and a bigger problem if residential units are added.

But creative solutions can be found for any increase in demand for parking, said consultant to the city Douglas J. Hammel, a senior associate at Houseal Lavigne Associates.

As an example, Hammel said that church parking lots, which are empty most days of the week, could be offered for business use, and churchgoers could use empty business lots on Sunday mornings.

page3-2-col-sidebar Overlay PalosPlace 061815-copy

Photos by Tim Hadac

High-end rental residences under construction on the second floor of Palos Place, 12306 S. Harlem Ave., are expected to make the new development more attractive for retailers and other first-floor tenants. They are seen by some as a model of what could be and perhaps ought to be in the city’s downtown.

page3 2cols sidebarOverlay NoParking 061815-copy

A “No Parking” sign in the 12200 block of South Harlem Avenue shows the sentiment of some merchants along the strip and illustrates a point made by Alderman Robert Basso (2nd Ward) about how several popular pubs and restaurants take up a good deal of what he called communal parking.

 

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