Should Uptown Pedestrian Street Zoning Be Completely Removed for Ads?

Bridgeview Bank Uptown (Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank Building)
The Bridgeview Bank is in the area where the Pedestrian Street designation is proposed to be removed. Photo: Jeff Zoline.

The Pedestrian Street, or P-Street, designation is a zoning tool to ensure that a street will remain safe and pleasant to walk on. It dictates, for example, that buildings should have have convenient pedestrian access and engaging ground floors, with human-scale entrances located on the main street, close to the sidewalk, and street-level windows.

46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman has proposed removing the existing P-Street designation on five blocks radiating from the five-way intersection of Broadway, Lawrence Avenue, and Racine Avenue, in order to allow outdoor advertisements.

Building owners would be permitted to install the outdoor ads to help make up for revenue lost due to unrented storefronts, according to Cappleman’s chief of staff Tressa Feher. The advertisements are supposed to generate revenue to help property owners be more selective about tenants, Feher said, but they require “off-permise permits” that are incompatible with the P-Street designation:

Advertising income can offset empty storefronts’ lack of revenue. We’re trying to convince landlords to attract quality tenants, that are local or entertainment groups. Restaurants, music-type entertainment. Our goal is that, if we’re going to get those tenants in, we need to do something to offset these high rents. The chain stores are willing to pay higher rents but we don’t want that. We have large spaces that are very inviting, and we’d like to have uses that fit into the entertainment district.

The number and size of the ads hasn’t been determined yet, but they would still need to comply with other zoning regulations on size, and they will be static display ads, not signs that flash, change, or move.

46th Ward resident Andrew Vessilinovitch, an architect, told me that he doesn’t necessarily have a problem with new ads being installed near Lawrence/Broadway/Racine. “They can be taken down,” he said. “They are not inherently permanent.  And…a sign could [potentially] be entertaining.”

If storefronts are sitting empty, this seems like a justifiable reason to rethink the P-Street in Uptown, but there could be a better way to go about it. Instead of completely removing the P-Street ordinance, for instance, exemptions to specific parts of it could be made. Lifting all of the P-Street rules could turn into a problem if developers start taking steps that degrade the pedestrian environment beyond the addition of a few outdoor ads.

  • Adam Herstein

    What is the point of having a P-street designation if the alderman can just remove it for any reason?

  • I walk over here sometimes and the stretch of Broadway needs a lot more than just advertisements, in my opinion. There are hardly any stores there worth visiting. A few bars on B’way north of Lawrence though. Otherwise a pretty dead area.

  • No reason it shouldn’t be a bustling entertainment district. It’s got some of Chicago’s best music venues right there: the Aragon, the Riviera, the Green Mill, and the Kinetic Playground (OK, I haven’t actually been to the KP). Plenty of interesting bars and restaurants nearby including a classic diner, Ethiopian restaurant, a Chinese seafood place, a gay sports bar and more, plus the awesome Argyle Asian dining district is just up the street. Not to mention the sleeping giant that is the Uptown Theater – it would be amazing if someone could raise the money to renovate it.

    Fun fact: the mayor’s aunt used to run a psychedelic rock club nearby called the Electric Daisy.

  • This area definitely has a ton of potential. I hope the small development that starts around Wilson Yards creeps upward with the new Wilson stop and helps this area out. Lots of issues but I see so much potential for it.
    Broadway is also getting a protected bike lane! yea!

  • This is why we’re advocating for a more piecemeal approach to allowing good things to happen without disabling the entire designation.

  • I’ll be talking about Uptown Theater renovation and parking in the neighborhood in a future post.

  • Fred

    Yes, getting rid of the designation seem like a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater solution. No reason not to just exempt the advertising part.

    Although, I would rather the powers-that-be come up with a more creative solution than more advertising. More advertising seems to be the go-to solution these days.

  • Yep. BTW, for better or for worse, the outside panels of the Divvy docking stations will be bus stop-style ads.

  • Kevin M

    If the advertisement were to be for locally-owned businesses in this area, this proposal could be worth considering. However, it is my hunch that the advertising that would show up in this area would be for on-line and/or far-away businesses, which will do very little to help enrich the local economy of this area.

    What happened to offering incentives to businesses moving in to this area to provide long-term benefits? Is there a TIF in this area? Why is advertising revenue the only game in this area of depressed Chicago? The people of this neighborhood are going to be disappointed when they wake up and see they are being used while their (visual) public space environment is being bought and sold in front of their eyes.

  • m.

    If owners want to generate money off their building surfaces in a landmark historic district, where locking into long-term signage contracts could come back to haunt in all sorts of forms, they can work on solarizing their rooftops.

    Take a look at the extensive rooftop capacity of the former Goldblatt/Borders building, for ex. Many Uptown buildings have suitable rooftops due to the use of old-growth timber at the time they were built and to structural decisions made in anticipation of adding floors in the future. The top floors of the pictured Bridgeview Bank were in fact added in exactly this way.

    The lifting of the p-street designation risks paving the way for additional curb cuts for garage parking described by Alderman Cappleman as “at least 450 spaces” in recent WGN features on Entertainment District plans.

    But whether signage or solar or myriad other solutions, these fixes don’t address a fundamental issue throughout the city: our property tax structure incentizes commercial vacancy.

  • m.

    Great questions. Sign on Western Ave in West Rogers Park has generated hundreds of complaints to the Chamber of Commerce: http://dnain.fo/1aKvwax

  • Littleton Arts Uptown

    Yes true…but at least residents can USE the bikes. I guess as a resident a block and a half away it is just nihilistic of me but….

    The billboards will be an eyesore nothing more nothing less. The idea that the owners will lower the rent is speculative, the notion fun and exciting business will move in is speculative.

    BTW….the Kinetic Playground closed shop a couple years ago. The owner got 17 years in Stateville check it out it is a good little read. Internet poker, Vicodin and real estate development DO NOT mix.

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/crime/13761306-418/banks-money-wasted-on-poker-vicodin.html

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