Let’s Be Clear: Uptown Doesn’t Need More Parking

Uptown Theatre
Before the city will issue a permit to renovate the Uptown Theater, hundreds of nearby parking spaces have to be identified. Photo: Ian Freimuth

Appearing on WGN/CLTV in May, 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman said that “we’re doing everything we can to create more parking spaces.” Cappleman was talking about the renovation of the Uptown Theater at 4816 N Broadway and its parking requirements. His boast about adding more parking caught me off-guard, and I wasn’t alone.

Jerry Michaelson, CEO of JAM Productions, was on the show with Cappleman and didn’t seem to agree with him. After mentioning all of the places people can already park near the theater, which is on the verge of re-opening after sitting dormant since 1981, he said, “I don’t know if people have had a problem parking coming to our shows and we’ve been doing shows in the Uptown neighborhood since 1973.”

In a neighborhood that’s getting protected bike lanes on Broadway from Montrose to Foster (north of which is IDOT jurisdiction, and you know what that means) and a $203 million Wilson Red Line station replacement. Would the alderman of a transit-rich neighborhood where bicycling infrastructure is improving really call for more parking spaces? I called the alderman’s office to get more information.

It turns out the Cappleman’s office is actually trying to avoid the addition of parking. Tressa Feher, 46th Ward chief of staff, told me that “we’re going to push for the least amount of parking possible” but that the zoning code requires one parking space for every 10 seats in a theater. That’s right: Before the Uptown Theater can get a renovation permit, it is required by law to show that a certain number of parking spaces are available for customers.

Since the theater is within 600 feet of a train station, Feher said, the parking minimum gets cut in half. So, with 4,500 seats in the theater, that means 225 parking spaces have to be identified. The number could easily have been higher. The Uptown Theater is 425 feet away from the Lawrence Red Line station, as the crow flies (which is how the zoning code measures distance), but 600 feet if you walk on the sidewalk. Can you imagine if this renovation project stalled out because 450 parking spaces couldn’t be identified? Ideally, there would be no parking requirements attached to any building renovation in the city.

In general, Feher said, Cappleman’s office wants to lower the parking requirements near train stations. “Our goal is to have everyone take the train…and we’re looking to get parking requirements dropped for developments near the train station,” she said, referring to new developments. “We’re looking to use all the available parking that there is, there’s no great desire to build more parking.”

Word is that a new Transit-Oriented Development ordinance may soon be introduced to City Council, loosening some of the restrictions on building near transit stations, including parking requirements. We reported last week that the bill would apply to development within 600 feet of transit stations, but it looks like it might be better than that. The latest rumor is that the ordinance may loosen restrictions within a bigger radius than 600 feet.

  • Are there ever exemptions made based on special appeal? I know that is a long shot but there cannot be 255 more parking spaces in the neighborhood…

    Does it take into account bus access? There are 2 adjacent bus routes (36, 81) and we are getting Divvy up here soon too.

    This is so frustrating. I heard (don’t quote me) 40% of residents in the 46th don’t have a car/don’t drive one. Parts of Uptown are in dire need of rejuvenation. If a parking requirement gets in the way of it I’d be floored, and I’m not alone! What kinds of public meetings can neighborhood advocates go to in order to oppose adding so much parking to the neighborhood?

    Last thought… the Truman college parking garage (some colossal structure at least twice the size of the college itself) is probably going to be unused when at least some shows are happening. So why not try to find the spaces there? There is all that capacity that can be used and it is just blocks from the theater.

  • 1. The key word here is “identified”. The Uptown Theater doesn’t have to own or build 225 parking spaces, but must have agreements to access them. Here’s the code:

    “17-10-0604 Agreement. An agreement providing for the use of off-site parking, executed by the parties involved, must be filed with the Zoning Administrator, in a form approved by the Zoning Administrator. Off- site parking privileges will continue in effect only as long as the agreement, binding on all parties, remains in force. Agreements must guarantee long-term availability of the parking, commensurate with the use served by the parking. If the agreement is no longer in force, then parking must be provided as otherwise required by this chapter.”

    2. The existing code excludes buses by saying “CTA or Metra rail station”. Chief of Staff Tressa Feher mentioned the upcoming availability of Divvy.

    3. There are two ways of looking at this (data from American Community Survey 5-year estimates, 2007-2011 in ZIP code 60640, which comprises most of the Uptown neighborhood):

    3.a. 37.6% of households have no access to a vehicle.
    3.b. 24% of workers 16+ have no access to a vehicle.

    4. I asked Chief of Staff Tressa Feher about using Truman College’s enormous parking garage [seriously, this was built in a transit-dense place?] and she said it was too far. I think she meant this mostly on a walking distance basis, but it also fails to meet the 600 feet distance requirement for off-street parking.

  • Regarding Truman garage… too far? It’s 6 blocks. I realize it’s kind of shifty at night over there, and you have to walk behind the college to get to it. Maybe the new CTA station access at Sunnyside could address that by making it safer?

    Why are drivers given the luxury of having the city back up the convenience of parking proximity in the zoning code, but the CTA has never been required to provide bus/train service to every single residence in the city without walking more than 3 blocks? Why is there no demand that there be a decent grocery store within walking distance of every city residence? Or a good school? Do you see what I’m getting at?

  • Anon

    This doesn’t sound accurate. Chicago zoning provides an exception for landmarked buildings:

    17-10-0102-A Landmarks.

    1. No additional off-street parking or loading spaces are required for rehabilitation or reuse of an official Chicago Landmark building.

    The Uptown Theater was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1991: http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/landmarksweb/web/landmarkdetails.htm?lanId=1443

    Therefore, wouldn’t they be exempted from providing any additional parking?

  • The keyword here is “additional”. I think this means the difference between the number of spaces provided now and the number of spaces the zoning code would require this use (were it not a landmark) to provide. However, this place hasn’t been *out of use* for 32 years.

    Chief of Staff Tressa Feher said they need to provide 450 parking spaces, which is cut in half because the use is within 600 feet of a train station.

  • Yes.

  • No, didn’t see that… So everyone in a car gets $4.00 of transportation for free? I have lots to say about that… Like what about people who park at Howard then take the Red line? My family does this and they pay to park and each person pays to ride ($4.50 round trip).

    Who would subsidize the DeVry parking? It doesn’t really matter, because underpricing a commodity leads to over consumption (you don’t need to be told this).

  • CL

    As much as I’m in favor of residents having a place to park, legally requiring a certain amount of parking spaces for a theater is silly. . . especially near a train station. If Uptown were built from scratch under today’s parking requirements, people wouldn’t be happy with the result. I’m sure that some patrons will have to get to Uptown by car just because of where they live, but not this many — a lot of people will be coming from Chicago.

  • Chicagio

    Just pass a variance. In fact, why haven’t the owners applied for a variance by now? Certainly this can’t be the first the owners are hearing of the issue.

  • Anon

    That doesn’t really respond to my point. “Additional” would mean that they don’t need to identify any more parking than what’s already at the building. There is no shortage of Landmark buildings in Chicago that have been totally rehabbed and did not need to provide any parking at all. The zoning code doesn’t make any qualifications for the Landmark buildings related to being “out of use.” So why do they think they need to provide 450 parking spaces? Does the chief of staff have her information right, or is there some other clause in the code that negates the Landmark exemption? If you’re really looking to challenge the requirement, these are questions I think you should be asking her.

  • Al Lux

    I know I’m going against the grain, but I don’t think this is really such a big deal. The Uptown theater doesn’t have to build parking, they only have to identify 225 spaces. If there are 2 people in a car, then that means that there would parking for 10% of theater goers if there was a full house. Is this really such bold request?

    I am curious to know whether the Uptown theater has plans to be a regional attraction with big name shows and sell out crowds. If so, that would be great for Uptown, of course, but I think people must also recognize that the Uptown theater is not next to Union Station or Ogilvie, where people can step out and take a cab. Sure it is next to the Red Line which is great, and I hope that the majority of people get there by rapid transit, bus, walk, and taxi. A few people might get there by bike, but I don’t think it is realistic to expect a large number of theater goers to travel by bike.

    In short, if there are sell out shows at Uptown theater, I think identifying parking facilities for 10% of theater goers is very reasonable.

  • The way I understand it is this:

    The theater has 0 parking spaces attached to it because it is not in use and any off-street parking space agreements it may have had under the zoning code in 1981 when it was last used have expired.

    Since there is a new use coming into play (concert venue with new owner), the zoning code must be met. The 225/450 parking spaces would not be additional, but would be initial. If the next owner makes this building into a use that requires an even higher number of parking spaces, that difference (between 225/450 and the new use’s parking space requirement) wouldn’t need to be taken care of (no new parking spaces would have to be built/identified).

  • Yes, there is highly subsidized transportation from this remote parking lot. I am going to *guess* that the Cubs pay the CTA to do this.

    And the lot is still, apparently, underused.

  • Anonymous

    JAM Productions. Now that is a name that conjures a lot of great Chicago music memories. Since ’73, yep. Never had a parking problem rings true.

  • Anonymous

    A theater that remains a theater, whether live music or other, shouldn’t need zoning relief to reopen as such . . . unless the use is completely prohibited under current zoning and is now classified an abandoned non-conforming use. Then, a building designed as theater is likely best used for the same purpose, so it would make sense to grant such relief to a willing investor … or let the building stand vacant.

    Of course, I haven’t read Chicago’s zoning ordinance, nor am I familiar with it – just speaking in theoretical terms.

  • Joseph Musco

    OT: The Chicago Park District has a deal in place to give the Cubs access to the Challenger Park lot (N of Irving Park @ the Red Line) on game days. It’s not much of a park, more of a green strip between the L and Graceland cemetery. I think the deal was the Cubs would pay for the park and they’d get access to the 200 spot lot — a lot where they charge to park.

    http://goo.gl/TPG3Ea

  • Joseph Musco

    Note: It’s a 25 year lease that was signed in 1991. The lease is up in 2016. I thought this was trivia, not current events! I wonder what the market rate for a 200 spot lot with prime Wrigley Parking is today? I wouldn’t be surprised if this lease gets extended for free as part of the Wrigley renovation deal. I’d be disgusted, just not surprised.

  • Justin

    Wouldn’t a Pedestrian Street Designation eliminate all parking requirements for the address?

  • m.

    DeVry lot, Cubs opening day, 2013

  • W. Walker Robinson Jr.

    I lived two blocks away from the theater for two years — and anyone who lives within a 3-4 block radius knows the “parking nightmare” coming home from work when just one of the theaters has a show…street parking is jammed, and little lots that open for shows are packed. We really need a parking garage on that lot at Lawrence and Winthrop….with retail in the bottom of course :-)

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