Should Heritage Keep Its People Spot or Should It Go Elsewhere in Lakeview?

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The Lincoln Avenue People Spot. Photo: Heritage Bicycles and Coffee

Tomorrow at a meeting of the SSA 27 Commission, which oversees how money from Lakeview’s special service area is spent, the commissioners will determine the fate of the neighborhood’s “People Spot” mini parks.

Currently, there are two of these parklets in the neighborhood during the warmer months. A sidewalk café-like space sits on the 2900 block of North Lincoln, in front of Heritage Bicycles and Coffee and Bistro Dre. On the 3500 block of North Southport, near The Butcher’s Tap and Uncle Dan’s outdoor gear store, there’s an amorphous seating area, vaguely reminiscent of a whale’s skeleton.

At Thursday’s meeting, which takes place at 8:30 a.m. at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont, and is open to the public, the commissioners will vote on whether the two People Spots should stay in the same locations or move elsewhere in the neighborhood. The proposed new locations would be on the 3300 block of North Lincoln, near Dinkel’s Bakery and The New England Seafood Company, and on the 3600 block of North Southport, close to a CVS, Sushi Mura, and a food truck zone.

“The commissioners are interested in having us move the People Spots around the neighborhood in order to share the benefits with residents and business owners,” says Dillon Goodson, the SSA 27 program manager. “We recognize that these People Spots have been very successful, but ultimately our goal is to make things fair for the entire neighborhood.” He added that possible outcomes of the vote include both parklets moving, one moving, or both staying in place.

The Lincoln People Spot was originally installed in 2012, and the Southport one was first placed in 2013, at a cost of $25,000 and $75,000, respectively, plus annual installation, removal, storage, and maintenance costs, bankrolled by the SSA. Commissioner Nabil Zahrah, an architect with the local firm Zed, feels the parklets have stayed in the same places for too long.

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The South Port Avenue People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

“The idea was that the People Spots would be located to draw attention to different parts of the neighborhood,” Zahrah says. “They sort of belong to the whole SSA – they’re not really site-specific or business-specific. Our budget of $780,000 has to be spread around and spent equitably.”

Heritage owner Michael Salvatore agrees that it would be a win for the neighborhood to get People Spots in new locations, but he’s worried that the removal of the Lincoln parklet will make his block less lively. “It’s been so great and successful that it’s hard for me to be OK with it leaving,” he says. “I’m just afraid that we’re going to lose the momentum we’ve had with the People Spot.” The Lincoln Hub placemaking project, located at the next intersection north also added outdoor seating to the area.

Although the Lincoln parklet has six tables with two or three seats each, which get good use from patrons of Heritage’s coffee counter, Salvatore says it’s not so much the loss of seating that bothers him, since he sets up additional outdoor tables in a parking lot south of the store. “But Lincoln between Belmont and Division is kind of a no-man’s land,” he says. “The People Spot creates this iconic space in the middle of a desert.”

Salvatore notes that a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council found that the Lincoln parklet was the most successful one in the city, in terms of use and revenue generated for nearby businesses. “And it’s not just our customers,” he says. “It’s a public space, so people bring their own food and eat lunch there.”

Fionn McManigal, who grew up in the neighborhood and manages the building Heritage is in, said this stretch of Lincoln used to be dense with taverns and German delis, but the area became something of a dead zone over the last two decades. “The people spot changed that for the better,” he said via email. “With no ‘L’ stop like Lincoln & Paulina, and the discontinuation of the Lincoln Bus service [returning this year], the People Spot on the 2900 block gave us a unexpected gathering place.

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Brown Line commuters pass by a TOD construction site at Lincoln and Paulina. Photo: John Greenfield

“Don’t get me wrong, I love what is being done at Lincoln & Paulina,” McManigal said. “The transit-oriented development there is great as is the redevelopment on the southeast corner. If there is call for a People Spot up there, let’s have another one installed, but not at the expense of one that has proven to draw folks in.”

Randy Cummins, who owns Black Swan Bodywork, located around the corner on Wellington echoes this sentiment. “Coffee and outdoor seating really bring people together who might not meet otherwise,” he says. “It would just be sad if the People Spot moved away from where it’s been the past few years.”

Salvatore says he has considered spending his own money for a replacement People Spot if the SSA commission votes to remove the parklet. “But for a small business, it’s not the easiest thing to do,” he says. “Perhaps the neighborhood can come together and come up with a plan.”

In January, City Council approved a “Curbside Café” pilot program, which allows restaurant and cafes to create private People Spots for serving food and drinks to customers. The business would be required to pay a $600 annual permit fee and compensate the city’s parking concessionaire for any loss of meter revenue. However, the parklets can only be installed on designated Pedestrian Streets with less than eight feet of sidewalk width. Lincoln north of Diversey isn’t a P-Street, and Heritage’s sidewalk is too wide.

Commissioner Nabil Zahrah says he’s sympathetic to Heritage’s dismay at the possibility of losing their parklet, but reiterated that he feels it’s only fair that the People Spots should move around. “I feel for them, but they shouldn’t be taking this personally,” he says.

  • Street furniture like this should be permanent so as to be reliable. Like with Divvy stations…

    I understand that someone needs to pay for their maintenance, and that’s more what this is about. But this city lacks a lot of good outdoor public seating, and it’s annoying to see the few places we do get in the nicer weather whipped around from place to place. Seating is not secondary, it should be funded reliably.

  • I like the idea of putting seating areas near food-truck zones.

  • I agree that the stretch of Lincoln in question could use the boost – how much does it cost to move these vs adding new ones?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I assume moving them doesn’t really cost anything, because they’re already removing, storing, and reinstalling them every year.

  • John. I know you know Chicago better than that. Moving a traffic cone costs an arm and a leg.

    What would be cheaper and more sustainable on multiple fronts is finding a way for vocational high school kids to work with architects to manufacture them.

  • Mmm, middle of a dessert…

  • PP

    Just add more “People Spots” throughout the area …. Lincoln/Roscoe/Paulina is busy enough already with foot traffic.

  • Jeff Gio

    “However, the parklets can only be installed on designated Pedestrian Streets with less than eight feet of sidewalk width. Lincoln north of Diversey isn’t a P-Street, and Heritage’s sidewalk is too wide.”

    If it’s a p-street is the $600 permit and payment to LAZ waived?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Nope. The location has to be a P-Street with sidewalks that are under eight feet wide. And the business has to pay the $600 annual permit fee and compensate LAZ. And they have to pay for the parklet themselves — they generally cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through, which is why I’m expecting we won’t see many Curbside Cafes this year.

  • Jeff Gio

    I wonder if relocating the paid parking spot to a comparable area would satisfy the “compensate LAZ” requirement.

  • Jeremy

    If I remember correctly, LAZ’s contract is for a certain number of spots available. If the city adds a bunch of new spots (like Stockton between Diversey and LaSalle), the city wouldn’t have to make true-up payments when other spots are temporarily taken out of service.

  • Jeremy

    When these spots were first proposed, businesses claimed losing the parking spots would hurt sales. Now business are fighting to get them. If it weren’t for that parking meter contract, we could have more on street seating areas.

  • Bernard Finucane

    In general, the idea of widening pedestrian areas and charging businesses to use them is pretty sound. European cities make a lot of money this way.

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