WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.A fire over the weekend has set off renewed controversy over a discount mall in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Vendors and the owner clashed Wednesday with a neighborhood activist who wants the mall torn down. Chicago Public Radio’s Catrin Einhorn reports. Chicago Public Radio’s Catrin Einhorn reports.
The Logan Square Mega Mall is essentially a six-building indoor market for everything from cheap clothes to party supplies to electronics, or that’s what it was until a fire destroyed one of the buildings.
Now the mall’s boarded up, with optimistic signs saying in not-quite-standard English: “Coming Soon! Temporarily Closure.”
The fire is still under investigation, and Wednesday morning agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms were there.
Outside, a crowd of worried Latino and Asian vendors stood in a semi-circle, listening to owner Kyun Park give them an update on the fire.
PARK: Seems like the structure is no problem, we only have the problem in one building.
Then the group noticed a man a few feet away, taking pictures of them.
They knew himâ€”local developer Larry Ligas, who wants the Mega Mall gone.
They walked over and told him to stop taking pictures.
LIGAS: This is a public alley.
Soon, the police arrived.
LIGAS: They have attacked me.
PARK: We call police, I call police.
POLICE OFFICERS: Ok, calm down, calm down. Yes, please calm down.
The fireâ€”and this renewed controversyâ€”is just the latest chapter in the history of the Mega Mall.
It’s the kind of dispute you see in changing neighborhoods like Logan Square.
In 2005, city officials shut down the Mega Mall for extensive code violations, and it was closed more than a year.
The owner sunk in money, and it’s been back up and running since last November.
But the city wants to acquire it through eminent domain. Park says he wants to stay as long as vendors want to rent from him.
PARK: We have so much people here, they need feed here, they like business here. I like business too.
But Larry Ligas, who heads a community group called Logan Square Concerned Citizens, says the mall has to go.
LIGAS: We feel that there’s a better use for this eyesore, this blighted site. Part of crime is blight. And we feel that this establishment is part of the major problem in our community.
Vendors paint another picture.
They say the mall’s a place for hardworking people to make a living and families to gather.
Eighteen-year-old Ivone Cornejo says she was working at her grandmother’s Mexican restaurant there, trying to save up for college.
CORNEJO: I’ve seen families come here with the kids, eat, have a good time, and not only families, senior citizens too, you know? It’s a place to shop, eat, and have a good time.
The fire destroyed the merchandise of several vendors, and the rest are anxious to see if theirs is damaged.
Most of the vendors don’t have insurance, and they’re losing money every day the Mega Mall is closed.
Alderman Rey Colon points to the hundred or so vendors as the ones who stand to lose the most, whatever happens to the Mega Mall.
He wants the city to acquire it and turn it into what he calls a European-style food market, with lots of vendors.
COLON: There’s this perception that I’m trying to do condos there, and quite frankly I’m trying to find a happy medium that everyone in the neighborhood can embrace, and food seems to be the number one request that comes to my office.
An eminent domain court case could take years.
Meanwhile, Mega Mall owner Kyun Park says he’ll re-open from the fire as soon as he can.
I’m Catrin Einhorn, Chicago Public Radio