Future of Devon’s parking garage in limbo

Businesses, residents stew over project’s latest hitch

August 12, 2011

(Flickr/Zol87)
(WBEZ/ Odette Yousef)
According to the City's Department of Buildings, the garage was not safe for public use.

Devon Avenue regulars may feel like they’ve fallen for a sort of tease this summer. Residents and business owners have long awaited the completion of a seemingly endless construction at the corner of Devon and Rockwell St. This summer, there have been signs that the multi-use project was getting there: in particular, its parking garage finally opened for public use. But just a few short weeks later, the City of Chicago’s Building Commissioner slapped a bright orange “Do Not Enter” notice by the garage entrance. Now, the future of the construction is a big question mark.

“All the businesses are just furious. So furious,” said Amie Zander, executive director of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce. She says ever since the city sold its public parking lots at that and other sites in the area, business owners have complained that their customers have fled to suburban strip malls, which offer similar South Asian, Jewish, and Middle Eastern stores, along with ample parking.

Although few were enthusiastic about the boxy, technicolor aesthetic of the structure at Rockwell and Devon, many store owners conceded that it could alleviate the business corridor’s parking limitations.

“The merchants are frustrated because they've been without parking, and this was the promised prize,” said Zander.

The garage’s builder, Asat Inc., promised more than 200 parking spots, well above the capacity of the city lot it replaced. According to the company’s redevelopment agreement with the city, the whole project – including retail space at ground level, and condominiums above – was supposed to be finished and operational nearly two years ago.

The closure notice for the garage was issued July 24, after the Chicago’s Department of Buildings found that the developer had violated terms of his agreement with the city.

“A partial certificate of occupancy was issued with understanding that it wouldn't be open to public but could be used for valet parking,” said Buildings Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey. “It was determined that it was open to the public and was therefore closed.”

Asat’s president, developer Mohammad Tariq Siddiqui, did not respond to interview requests.

McCaffrey said that while it had been open for public use, the garage’s elevators had not yet been inspected or approved, which meant that the building was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th)said the elevators are among her biggest concerns about the structure. “The most important thing is safety, and if the building's not safe, the last thing I want is for an accident to happen in the garage,” said Silverstein.

But the developer’s problems appear to run deeper than that. “They were issued a letter on March 31 notifying them that they were in default of the redevelopment agreement, and that we wanted to meet with them as soon as possible,” said Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Under the terms of the 2007 agreement, Siddiqui’s company stood to win up to $3.45 million in Tax Increment Financing. But, said Strazzabosco, “The TIF assistance is contingent on them completing the RDA according to its terms.”

In other words, Siddiqui’s lost the TIF money because he didn’t deliver what he promised to the city.

According to Strazzabosco, the city found that Asat Inc. violated its agreement by:
  • abandoning construction of residential units;
  • failing to meet the completion date;
  • failing to obtain approval for changes to the original plans;
  • failing to provide written quarterly progress reports;
  • failing to provide employment commitment reports
With its funding in jeopardy, it’s not clear how, or whether, the development will be completed.

So where to from here?

“There have been meetings set up for all parties to come together and meet,” said Silverstein.
 
According to Strazzabosco, several city departments will meet with Silverstein and the developer’s representatives in coming weeks to consider options. “We’re working on making what's been built a viable part of the community,” said Strazzabosco. “How is the best way to complete the project? Is it going to be completed as the way it was designed? Is there something else that can be done to it?”