Oak Park nonprofits submit plans for Austin landmark

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Two nonprofits with ties to Oak Park have submitted proposals for redeveloping the former Laramie State Bank, 5200-5224 W. Chicago Ave. in Austin. 

The Oak Park Regional Housing Center, located at 1041 South Blvd. in Oak Park, already has an office in Austin, and New Moms, headquartered in Austin but with an office at 206 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park, each teamed up with other organizations to submit separate redevelopment proposals. 

The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) received seven responses from developers and community organizations interested in redeveloping the former Laramie State Bank.

As part of the Invest South/West initiative, the city has been inviting organizations to submit redevelopment proposals for mostly city-owned lots. The Laramie State Bank site is the only site where the lots are split between two private owners although the city is prepared to buy up the land if necessary. The idea is to attract development to neighborhoods that haven't gotten much attention and to give local residents input into whatever redevelopment happens. 

The Housing Center teamed up with Heartland Alliance's housing division for a proposal that calls for developing 76 housing units, 53 of which would be affordable. 

The organizations would set up a "community-led board of directors" that would control what goes into about 10,000 square feet of commercial space. The bank building would include a bank branch although the proposal doesn't specify which bank. 

The development would also include a museum, a business incubator, a community co-working space, a coffee shop operated by an Austin native, and several outdoor and indoor community spaces.

"I am a product of the West Side and I've always had this vested interest in advocating for the community and wanting to see it grow and thrive and do better," said Athena Williams, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. 

Williams said she's even tried, unsuccessfully, to acquire the Laramie Bank Building herself. So when the city sent out requests for proposal, Williams said, she asked multiple West Side organizations if they wanted to partner on a proposal. 

Heartland Alliance, a Chicago-based anti-poverty organization, expressed interest in collaborating in the area of tenant selection. Williams, however, asked if they could do even more than that and team up in the area of development. She said the pitch was made smoother by the fact that Rob Breymaier, Williams' predecessor at the Housing Center, is now COO for Heartland's housing division. 

"At the end of the day, there's not enough affordable housing in any of our communities," Williams said. "I feel that, if we can get this off the ground, this can be one of the chapters in the next book for the Oak Park Regional Housing Center." 

Williams declined to identify specific retailers, such as the Austin coffee shop operator, citing the early stage of the process.  

New Moms, a nonprofit that provides services for young moms, teamed up with Holsen Development, an affordable housing developer, on a proposal that includes an Access Health Clinic on the first and second floors of the bank building, and a business incubator on the third floor of the building. 

The new building would include 81 affordable housing units, a GoGrocer grocery store, a small Chicago-based chain that bills itself as a more health-conscious version of 7-Eleven, and a Sonrisa Family Dental location. The proposal mentions that artist Tye Moores, an Austin native, would be involved in some capacity. 

The other five proposals included some mix of affordable housing and retail, with many proposals featuring art hubs and business incubators. According to DPD Commissioner Maurice Cox, all proposals will go through "a formal, community-driven review process," and the developer will be selected "in early 2021."

All seven finalists have to produce a video presentation at a planning department meeting next week, Williams said. 

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 14th, 2021 3:51 PM

That building is awesome. It should be saved. Interesting.

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