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.

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