Without Planning, Mega Parking Lot Could Replace Megamall

Logan's Crossing rendering (looking west)
A rendering of a new building that could replace the Megamall, a longstanding indoor market that stretches for almost 700′ along Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Image: Sierra U.S.

Terraco and Sierra U.S., two commercial real estate firms, have started marketing to potential tenants space within a new development at the site of the defunct Megamall, along Milwaukee Avenue northwest of Sacramento Avenue in Logan Square. Marketing documents published by Curbed Chicago show a new building housing 166,390 square feet of retail, including a supermarket and a health club — and a whopping 426 parking spaces, both within the building and in a surface lot behind it.

The plan proposes nearly enough parking to fill an entire city block, but surprisingly, that’s just five percent more than the minimum of 406 spaces that Chicago’s zoning code requiresWhereas most of the retail customers, just as elsewhere in the neighborhood, would likely arrive by foot, transit, or bike, a huge parking garage would only appeal to drivers — and so plentiful parking would probably induce driving to the site. That’s even though the site is “on a designated primary bicycle spoke route, a block from a major transit hub and a city-owned parking lot lonely for cars,” as local urban planner Lynn Stevens says. Stevens also points to a previous community workshop, where two-thirds of participants didn’t want additional parking in the area.

Stevens urges that local officials should develop a plan that could guide the fast-paced development along Milwaukee Avenue through Logan Square. In the absence of a unifying plan, the decades-old underlying zoning – amended piecemeal by developers and three different aldermen – becomes a de facto plan. Stevens, who writes the Peopling Places blog about Logan Square development, said, “a plan… would establish policy guidance for future growth and implementation of social, economic and physical [design] goals. Absent a plan, all we have is the Zoning Code that guides private physical development, but, as we know, [that] is subject to change at the whim of an alderman.”

She added that development policy for the area is done in “isolation” at many different agencies. In the absence of any plan, each “property owner envisions development to maximize profit under the existing zoning — or the zoning he thinks he can get out of the alderman.” And since existing zoning specifies conventional retail for the Megamall site, the result is the conventional Terraco/Sierra proposal.

The Milwaukee corridor through Logan Square is split between three wards and two previous plans. Graphic by Steven Vance.
The Milwaukee corridor through Logan Square is split between three wards and two previous plans.

Two plans have been made for parts of Milwaukee Avenue in the recent past, but they don’t think about Milwaukee Avenue holistically: They don’t cross ward boundaries, address different topics, and leave a prominent gap in their coverage. In 2009, the Metropolitan Planning Council created Vision Driving Development with the support of 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón, covering the stretch from Fullerton to Belmont and including the Megamall. However, it was never formally adopted as a governing strategy.

In 2008, the Department of Planning & Development created (and the the Chicago Plan Commission adopted) a Milwaukee Avenue Corridor Plan with former 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores, addressing the stretch between Western and California. Left out from both plans is the two block stretch between California and Fullerton, where many new businesses have recently opened.

Even though the Vision Driving Development plan encompasses the Megamall, the property has since been redistricted into Alderman Scott Waguespack’s 32nd ward, and its southeastern neighbors have been moved into the 1st Ward, which is now represented by Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno.

“Logan Square,” Stevens said, “particularly the Milwaukee Avenue corridor, is this walkable, bikeable, transit-served neighborhood, but with some wide swaths of land on our primary commercial corridor ripe for development. A full-service grocery store is one of the oft-cited needs.” The conflict between that walkable and transit-accessible setting, a demand for larger retailers, and the lack of an adequate plan to reconcile the two has emerged as a key point of contention in online debates about the Megamall site.

The current Corridor Development Initiative, led by by Metropolitan Planning Council in partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority, CDOT, and the Department of Planning & Development, could bring some further clarity. Its purview is limited to the Logan Square Blue Line station plaza and the adjacent parking lot at Emmett and Kedzie. Upcoming meetings will be on Tuesdays, September 9, 16, and 30, from 6 pm to 8 pm, at the Hairpin Arts Center, and will inform a Request for Proposals to attract transit-oriented development for the two sites next year.

The MegaMall Block: View Looking North from Sacramento
The Megamall sits across from Father & Son restaurant at Sacramento Avenue. Photo: Dan O’Neil
  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I’m not going to say you have to give every developer everything the developer wants. But…

    If you create an environment where it takes years for a developer to get approval for a project and the project scope keeps decreasing, soon enough potential investors are no longer going to find Chicago as a good place to invest.

    Logan Square is not an island. This plan has to serve people whether they come to the place on a bike, walk, transit or car. You may choose to live your life without a car or with little use of a car, but there are many thousands of people who will visit this location every week who choose to use a car.

    Also, these kind of developments create jobs and generate significant property tax and sales tax revenue. The City of Chicago can’t afford to turn its back on these kind of developments.

    I believe this section of Milwaukee between Fullerton and California were left out of the 2008 plan intentionally because the size of the property meant there was going to be a huge development at this site. And the city was leaving options open in order to draw such a development to the area. The new development in the area that you refer to in your post above generally involves parcels significantly smaller and less valuable than the parcel where the Mega Mall is.

  • JacobEPeters

    The MegaMall site is within the plans for the Vision Driving Development plan. The area not in either plan is the section where Slippery Slope, Radler, Gaslight, Owen + Alchemy, Chicago Diner, Emporium 2, East Room, and Chicago Distillery have opened in the past year or so.

    I think that parking will be needed with the scale of project envisioned for the MegaMall site, but 400+ parking spaces is far more than will be needed. There are already half empty lots throughout this neighborhood, including the City owned lot just north of the Logan Station entrance which is proposed to be redeveloped as part of the alderman’s TOD vision. If this project had less parking and more residential, it would more directly address the commodity that is actually in demand yet lacking in supply across Logan Square: housing.

  • Jim Mitchell

    I generally agree with all of the above, although I would point out that the likely reason the City-owned lot on Emmett is always half-empty has less to do with demand for parking than it does with the insanely high rates being charged there since the parking meter deal was signed. Before then, you could buy a monthly pass from the Alderman’s office for $50, if I recall correctly. Those days are long gone. That said, perhaps a better solution than the proposed 426-space parking ramp with attached and subordinate retail space (which honestly is what the proposal for the MegaMall site looks like to me), would be for the owners of the new development to find a way to validate parking in the Emmett Street lot for their customers, similar to the surface lots in Chinatown. That might allow some space on the MegaMall property to be turned into residential, too. (If ever a space begged for mixed-use development, this would be it.)

  • Jacob Marshall

    Would cutting the number of parking spots really equate to the city “turning its back” on the development though? With several large apartment buildings going in just down the street it seems the city should be encouraging developers to cater to local demand that is less likely to need or want to drive. This development will just increase demand for residential construction nearby in turn. Some parking will be needed obviously, but there’s a better use for that space and I think even developers are starting to realize this. Afterall, with a minimum of 406 spaces, less parking could actually be the result of less regulation given the right developer, and the right overall development plan for the area.

    There are better ways to handle parking demand as well – Jim’s comment mentions validation for already existing lot for example. A communal lot or garage which is associated with several area businesses would encourage drivers to park in the neighborhood and patronize various businesses at a time, rather than just zipping in to their single destination and leaving.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Clearly Logan Square is hurting for people desiring to open new establishments and businesses as well as suffering a dearth of development interest….

    Except that it is one of the hottest neighborhood in the entire damn country…..

    Your premise then might have some merit…..

    Can someone say ..unaware

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Regarding a communal parking garage, it looks as if the city is getting out of running parking lots and garages. So in order to have this fantasy garage, would you say to the developer at the Mega Mall, well were going to severely limit the parking at this location, with the expectation that you or another developer will have to buy another piece of property and erect a separate garage structure, and your customers who drive will have to carry their week’s worth of groceries down the street, possibly across the street in all weather just because some people don’t want you to have a connecting garage?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Given the right developer and the right plan for the area… 1) You don’t have the right to pick the developer, unless you are the developer, that’s how it works. 2) The plan for the area was for a large development on a large parcel. But it was never specifically laid out as to the type (housing, retail or some of both) and the zoning for such never moved forward. These visioning plans never get too specific because the people making the vision feed a lot feel goods out to the public but since they don’t have a pot of money to make it happen, they sit on a shelf and collect dust. If you have the a developer willing to invest in that parcel with a plan you want, take it to the city, buy the property and do it. Or is it expected that everything has to wait in limbo until years on the right developer appears?

  • Jacob Marshall

    You don’t need 426 parking spots for a profitable supermarket, and in a neighborhood as bustling and transit accessibly as Logan you don’t really need any parking at all for a health club or whatever hipster bakeries and such are bound to end up there. Perhaps after cutting the number of spots the remaining private lot/garage could be situated as to be used only by supermarket customers and not for the rest of the development? Not sure if that would be possible, just an idea.

    Regardless, encouraging developers to work together on more holistic, community minded projects (like alternatives to the suburban-style parking lot) instead of just squeezing every dollar they can out of their own plot of land regardless of how it effects the rest of the area sounds just fine by me. The demand for less car-centric development is definitely there, but developers keep building parking lots because that’s what city and state regulations encourage, and then customers respond by driving more. The conditions for profitability can be changed, if we only stopped acting like car-friendly development is the only possible development.

  • tooter turtle

    Your point is a good one. The people putting up the money have a right to say something about how they want to risk it.
    At the same time, I do feel it would be unfortunate to repeat the development that we have, for example, around North & Kingsbury, an area that should be great for walking/transit/biking but has instead become horribly congested with car traffic and thus generally an unpleasant place to be.

  • Ryan Lakes

    What makes Chicago what it is, and what made it as it was being created, is its pedestrian scale. Suburbs and car-scaled (car-retrofitted) cities lack or have significantly less of that density and are typically less interesting to visit/get less tourisms, capture and hold fewer dollars..

    Logan Square is thriving as a pedestrian scaled community and can and should be choosy about the kinds of developments that they allow, and are possibly in a great position to give developers the traction/motivation that they need to push back against ridiculous parking minimums.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    If you ask the powers that be in the city of Chicago, that were they to go back in time when that area was in the shadows of Cabrini Green, and say do you want to keep this area the way it is or do you want a job generating area that collects millions in sales and property taxes, I think they’d choose the later.

  • tooter turtle

    False premise. It’s not the presence of a gross overabundance of “free” parking that has generated revenue, it’s the absence of Cabrini Green.

  • Frank J Schneider

    Honestly if I’m going to pick up a few things from the grocery store then I’d probably walk or bike, but if it were the usual once weekly trip then I’m going to drive. If this grocery store doesn’t have enough convenient parking then I’m going somewhere else!

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Not really. History of the retail at North and Clybourn started well ahead of the demise of Cabrini. Its just in the last few years that it moved westward down North Avenue and southward down Kingsbury.

    My statement earlier still holds true, while you may get some adjstments to parking at the Megamall site, the city also recognizes it needs to keep in the pipeline properties that generate sales and high real estate taxes and won’t stymie development too much. Hence the approval of the Mariano’s on Broadway with all the parking requested. I just hope they don’t plead for TIF funds.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I was very sad when all the Packard auto building s were knocked down on Sheffield and Clybourn. Some were pretty cool.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    But the property tax and sales tax and jobs a Mariano’s will will create is something the city needs. And every neighborhood has development interest. The difference here is right now there is a develpment on the table. And who is to say that this kind of development may make it more enticing for nearby housing, including TOD, to get on the drawing boards.

  • Loganresident

    This reads like an editorial. Did you mean to interview only one person, someone whom many in the community sees as a bully and an anti-development zealot? I like your writing but it’s not good reporting.

  • Anton Cermak

    One edit: the CTA isn’t releasing the RFP, DPD is. The land in question is City-owned, not CTA-owned.

  • hello

    “New City” is going to make that even more pleasant with 1,100 more parking spaces. Yippee

  • hello

    Streetsblog is an advocacy site, not a news site. Hence, all material is editorialized to a degree.

  • cb

    I agree. This blog has interesting observations but they are not reporters. I’ve had this same issue with them on other topics they cover. They’d reach a larger audience and be more credible if they covered both sides of an issue.

  • Kevin M

    Show me a commercial district in this city where the combination of 1) lack of automobile parking and 2) ample transit/bicycle service is severely hurting its economic sustainability.

    I don’t believe this exists in Chicago. Therefore, curbing future parking availability in Logan Square will also not hinder its economic sustainability. The value of automobile parking to Chicago’s economy is grossly over-estimated.

  • The Mega Mall site was included in the 2008 plan; note the paragraph right under the map. As you point out, the section left out of both plans does “involves parcels significantly smaller” — but because on-premises alcohol sales are heavily taxed, I’d argue that they’re more valuable from a revenue perspective than a grocery store.

    The idea behind having a plan, and good zoning, already in place is so that developers who want to do something good can do something quickly. Instead, current zoning requires that, if a developer wants a quick approval, they must build 400+ parking spaces at this site.

  • Thanks — I’ve corrected it.

  • Anton Cermak

    In your scheme though, the Emmett Street lot would remain dedicated to park. While I understand the need for SOME parking, for it to remain a dedicated parking lot so close to transit simply cannot be the best use for that land.

  • Jim Mitchell

    Well, at least part of the lot would have to remain as parking if that scenario played out. I wasn’t envisioning the entire lot being dedicated to users of the Megamall redevelopment property.

    However, now that you mention it and I think about it more carefully, I believe I probably overstated the effects of the cheap monthly parking passes on the use of the Emmett Street lot. I think the lot actually was usually no more than maybe 2/3 full and often nearly empty, even before the rates went up. Although the usage of the lot did drop when the rates went up, it was always underutilized (based on my own intermmittent and unscientific observations during my 11 years living in the neighborhood).

  • Alex_H

    I think they are great reporters.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    So who builds a major grocery store and have the parking nearly 1/2 a mile away?

  • Jim Mitchell

    WWW, that’s a good point, and I totally agree. I was looking for ways for them to cut down on the amount of on-site parking, not eliminate it. You are right that no developer (or at least not this one) is going to build a major grocery store without a good number of on-site parking spots (maybe 100 or 150 spots would suffice? 200? Still a lot less than 400.).

    But people not hauling a week’s worth of groceries — going to the gym or the other small retail outlets — might be OK with having a little bit of a walk. I know parkers utilizing the lots in Chinatown are OK with walking a similar distance to their destinations.

    In sum, I realize a combination of on-site and off-site parking is not perfect in the sense of fully satisfying every desire of every potential stakeholder, but it provides a reasonable compromise that I think warrants consideration.

  • I’m Serious

    Everything by the Wilson area red line. Lots of transit service and a bike lane. The stores without parking are struggling.

  • Lynn Stevens

    I don’t think we’ll know. Grocery stores typically want 4.5-5 parking spaces per 1000 sf, so for this site just the grocery store would look for about 190 parking spaces. Fitness centers like about the same. A few years back I spoke with a Mariano’s site selection consultant who looked at this site and said it would not work for them because there was inadequate parking. We rarely know when a use looks at a site and doesn’t even bother.

  • Lynn Stevens

    I think we need a plan to hammer out what the neighborhood wants and needs. For example, do we want to allow this level of parking in order to attract a grocery store? Or do we want to, for example, direct city TIF funds to a communal lot that serves more than one business or development? Or do we want to only attract businesses that will locate at a site with limited parking while further develop walking, biking and transit with city funds?

    In another comment you mentioned restricting the parking on this site to the grocery use. This could be done by having paid parking and only the grocery being able to validate it for free/discounted parking. Or maybe the development could operate a shuttle between the city lot and the development.

    There are myriad potential ideas, but right now there are competing interests that should be reconciled with a plan for this commercial corridor.

  • Lynn Stevens

    The space envisioned is too small for Mariano’s. I’m afraid it’s more scaled to a — yikes! — Walmart Neighborhood Market.

  • NorthSure

    Why don’t they make a pedestrian storefront with the parking lot tucked away behind it, like Sunrise Fresh a couple blocks away?

    Oh yeah, there’s already a pretty good grocery store a couple blocks away. Somehow that doesn’t really come up when they talk about how Logan needs a grocery store on the MegaMall site. When I was living on that block I’d also be able to walk to Aldi’s, Joong Boo and Jewel in Avondale (Jewel is a little bit of a hike but they have a nice biiig parking lot if you must drive). What they mean is Logan Square needs one of *our* grocery stores.

  • Lynn Stevens

    I agree with you about the availability of other grocery stores in the neighborhood.

    The proposed concept does show a pedestrian storefront with the parking lot tucked away behind it under the el tracks and additionally tucked away on floors 2, 3 and 4.

  • Lynn Stevens

    I don’t think a lot of people know about the lot, especially people from outside the neighborhood. Signage would go a long way to directing people to it, whether for grocery shopping or a concert.

  • Jim Mitchell

    I assume your “yikes!” is ironic, meant to acknowledge the contempt many have for WalMart’s employee policies and supply chain practices. But just focusing on what might result for the neighborhood, it’s worth noting that the WalMart market that took over the perennially awful grocery store in Presidential Towers (where I was a regular customer for over 20 years) was a godsend to the residents and workers in the area.

  • Lynn Stevens

    Sorry, looks like it was Jacob Marshall who made the suggestion about restricting parking to the grocery store.

  • Lynn Stevens

    I don’t personally want one, but I also don’t think a grocery store is a pressing need here. But others do.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Until there’s a signed lease for at least two major tenants, no one will know for sure what will go there. However, in order to attract those major tenants you have to assure them parking will be available. Wal-mart may not be your taste or standards, but a lot of people love them. Marianos took over the small Dominicks in Edgewater. Who knows what major chains may go there.

    By the way a lot of people love Amazon, but their employment practices are rather sketchy too.

    http://www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_workers/

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    But here’s the thing about these kind of projects.
    1) A developer begins negotiations with the seller on a piece of property.
    2) But before the developer can finish the negotiations, he/she has to have at least two (my estimation based on the size of the MegaMall property) letters of intent from future major tenants using at least 40% of the space before the developer can go to the bank and get financing.
    3) In order to get these letters of intent, he probably has to assure the prospective tenant that their will be enough parking based on their needs otherwise they will walk away.
    4) These things don’t happen overnight nor in a vacuum. And major tenants that can afford to rent in new construction have the expectation that their customers are not going to be expected to walk 1/2 mile to their parking lot, especially thru slush, snow, rain and excessive heat or freezing temperatures.
    5) Over the course of the years I’ve seen other proposals for this site fall through for any number of reasons. Mostly because a major tenant for the property could not be found and the financing probably fell through.
    6) Maybe they don’t need all that much parking. However, they are going to ask for a sufficient cushion to attract the highest paying tenant. Later they may adjust to their exact needs.

    I go to Chinatown maybe twice a year its an occasion. I will walk up to a 1/2 mile to get to the destination I want to go. And I have cancelled these occasions when there has been lousy weather. Going to the grocery is not an occasion.

  • Loganresident

    I get that but great advocates try to persuade, not preach to the choir. Yes, this article does inflame the opinions of those who are already anti-car but unfortunately, it does nothing to persuade an average reasonable person like me, who owns both a car and a bike and sees the value of both depending on the occasion. Calling this development a “parking lot” is a gross exaggeration and lacks credibility.

  • Loganresident

    I admire your attitude but where is this magical grocery just a couple of blocks away? Most of us do not want to stop by multiple grocery stores to meet our family’s needs. We want to save time, have options, and do it in one place–you’re right, in OUR neighborhood. What’s wrong with that? We don’t have that in our neighborhood. (By the way, Aldi’s and Joong Boo rock but they’re very limited.)

  • NorthSure

    It’s…just a couple blocks away. Milwaukee between Sawyer and Spaulding. Pretty good prices and a decent amount of parking around back. Big colorful signs in the windows?

  • Those businesses should get a big boost after that station is rehabbed. The sparkling new station will really give the area a facelift, and the fact that the Purple Line will stop there will attract a whole new crowd of residents and visitors.

  • I’m Serious

    I’m skeptical. This is based on a hope and a prayer.

  • rohmen

    I was kind of curious about the grocery store you mention, as everyone I know who lives near mega-mall has pretty consistently complained about the lack of a grocery store near by. Not that yelp is a great indicator of how everyone in the area feels, but the people that have bothered to write reviews seem to feel the place is a mixed bag at best: http://www.yelp.com/biz/sunrise-fresh-market-chicago.

    Even if this part of LS doesn’t qualify as a food desert per se based on sunrise and a few other small grocers in the area, I don’t think people are out of line to request a mid-sized “quality” (per their perception) grocery store locate to this area. The fact is several families I know in that area currently drive out of the neighborhood to go to either the Jewel or Mariano’s on Western, and I don’t get the feeling that they are the exception to the rule.

  • It’s not just the pedestrian storefront that we need… it’s uses that support a walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible block and neighborhood. With the addition of hundreds of new car movements on this block it becomes a little more hostile to walk or bike to.

  • Melissa Urbanski

    I agree – 426 parking spaces smacks of a suburban mall. The Trader Joe’s in Lakeview is a somewhat similar situation as the Megamall: on a bike spoke (Lincoln) and close to transit. They do quite well with a limited amount of parking, so I don’t believe developers or anyone else who are saying that much parking is needed for a successful grocery store.

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