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.

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