Loyola’s construction efforts got thumbs up from Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel as he announced Rogers Park as one of the selected “opportunity areas” for his long-term strategy to support and promote development across the city.
Announcing a $3 billion plan in private and public development projects in seven targeted Chicago neighborhoods through a new “Opportunity Planning” initiative, the mayor said in a press release that the goal in Rogers Park is to “enhance Loyola University’s efforts to reinvent itself as a residential school.”
“Each of these areas is unique and full of potential, and the city will play an important role in supporting their growth,” Emanuel said, referring to the seven selected neighborhoods: Englewood, Pullman, Rogers Park, Uptown, Little Village, Bronzeville and the Eisenhower Corridor.
For Loyola’s Office of Community Relations, the mayor’s announcement came as a surprise, but reaffirmed the collaborative relationship the university has had with the mayor’s office.
Summur Roberts, Loyola’s director of community relations, said that Emanuel’s press release was a way for the mayor to “package” some of the things he has been doing in collaboration with Loyola and “put his stamp of approval” on them.
“The university has a great relationship with the mayor; we have been very open and collaborative with the mayor’s office in terms of how the university is expanding … and where Loyola would love to see infrastructure improvements,” Roberts said. “He has been extremely pleased with how Loyola is continuing to re-develop the campus and re-developing the area around the campus.”
The proposed plans for Rogers Park include streetscape projects along West Devon Avenue and North Broadway, the enhancement of CTA Red Line stations close to the school, supporting retail and commercial investment on Devon Avenue, North Sheridan Road and Broadway and the creation of a pedestrian and bike-friendly environment in the neighborhood.
Roberts pointed out that Loyola has partnered with Edgewater’s alderman Harry Osterman to help revitalize Broadway south of Devon Avenue.
“Loyola is not leading that effort, but we are excited to be a part of that effort,” Roberts said.
The 48th Ward’s “master-planning process” aims to plan for neighborhood projects for the next 20 years, according to Roberts. It is currently in the discussion and community meeting stage.
Osterman’s office was not available for comment.
Other plans, such as the closing of North Kenmore and North Winthrop Avenues, continue to be part of the conversation.
“The university has always been very open about the fact that they would love to see Kenmore permanently closed to vehicular traffic,” Roberts said. “We are currently looking at really turning that area into an open, green mall that brings in the café that is going to be part of the new center of sustainable and urban living [San Francisco Hall].”
The 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue has been closed for almost two years because of the construction of San Francisco and de Nobili Halls, but in 2011, Loyola did a traffic study to evaluate the feasibility of closing the street for good. The proposal to close the street has been presented to some neighborhood authorities, said Jennifer Clark, Loyola’s associate vice president of Campus and Community Planning, in February.
Chicago’s Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andy Mooney told the Sun-Times that closing some streets could help advance the mayor’s goal of making Loyola a residential school.
“We need traffic enhancements and potentially closures along Kenmore and Winthrop Avenues to help Loyola turn that into more of a campus feel,” Mooney said.
Roberts said the university would use the space to increase the number of green spaces and parks in the area.
“We have been talking to the environmental groups in the Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project. They are a really important group in Edgewater, and they are so supportive of opening green space, and preserving and creating green space.”
Roberts said the project is still going through a community process. “That’s really exciting,” she said, acknowledging that the project would need the support of Osterman because the area is in Edgewater, Osterman’s ward. “We would be excited to see that happen.”
Despite continuing rumors and much buzz, Loyola’s plan for a hotel is still on hold, as the university has yet to find a partner and perform more studies on the area to see if a hotel can actually be built.
In March, Wayne Magdziarz, Loyola’s senior vice president for Capital Planning, said that the university was “shopping for a developer” who would lease the land and build the hotel, but is still determining whether the project would be “financially feasible.”
“The hotel is a big question mark,” Roberts said. “We had spoken to a potential hotel partner about a year ago … about the possibility for a hotel at Albion and Sheridan.”
Roberts explained that the project is going through a process of figuring out financing, size, parking and other factors before being able to start construction.
“There’s no deal on the table right now, it’s a conversation that continues to be ongoing,” she said. “I think Loyola would love to have a hotel there. It’s definitely a need.”
Roberts assured that, if it does happen, the Loyola community and Rogers Park residents would be the first to know.
Roberts, who said the university has been working in conjunction with both Rogers Park’s Ald. Moore and Edgewater’s Ald. Osterman, believes Loyola has been and will continue to be leaders in bringing development to the north side of Chicago.
“One of the biggest things Loyola brings to the table is responsible development … and our commitment to sustainable development,” Roberts said. “We work hard to not only invest in the campus but invest in the infrastructure around the campus so that every Rogers Parker and Edgewater resident can benefit. We continue to be committed to that.”
Moore also mentioned some of the projects for which the university has partnered with the ward.
“Loyola has been a partner on the improvements of the Loyola ‘El’ station that are taking place now. They have been a partner in some of the crosswalk improvements on East and West Sheridan Road. Of course, they are building a lot of new buildings, so they have been very much a partner,” Moore said.