Moving of Taylor parking lot creates hardships for customers, businesses
February 2, 2018

Photo by Troy Heinzeroth
Diners enjoy a meal at Sweet Maple Café, whose owner Laurene Hynson, notes that the elimination of a local parking lot is “a real problem” and offered alternate solutions.

By Susan S. Stevens

Popular businesses at or near the corner of Taylor and Loomis Streets are being forced to find new parking for their customers and employees since losing the parking lot that will hold a new library and housing.

Around the holidays, vehicles had to vacate the land at Taylor and Ada Streets that previously could hold 50 cars, as workers erected fencing at the construction site. The City plans on building a new public library at the site, with six stories of apartments above it.

A slightly larger substitute lot, on the southwest corner of Taylor and Racine Streets, opened a short time earlier, but it is a long way from the businesses that leased space in the Taylor and Ada Streets lot for decades.

Francesca’s, 1400 W. Taylor, and Davonti Enoteca, 1359 W. Taylor, use a valet company that starting Jan. 1 sublet space in a smaller lot a half-block south of Taylor, restaurant official Patrick Barnes said. Stax Café, 1401 W. Taylor, uses a lot behind the building, manager Jose Arenas said.

Valentine’s Day will bring the first real test for the new lots. “We might have 500 to 600 reservations for Valentine’s Day,” Barnes said. “That is going to get tricky.”

Laurene Hynson, owner of Sweet Maple Café, 1339 W. Taylor, has not made a similar arrangement. “It is a real problem,” she said. Her typical customers are retired people who have difficulty navigating sidewalks that are not properly shoveled. That poses a problem along all of the Chicago Housing Authority owned land east of her restaurant, she noted. Besides, she said, “People should not have to walk half a mile to get to their destination.”

Suggested alternatives

Hynson has ideas to alleviate the problem.

“They need to put some metered parking on the north-south streets to the alleys,” Hynson said. She suggested meters on Loomis Street, both north and south of Taylor, as well as on Lytle and Throop Streets. “All those streets should have metered parking.”

Also, “Why on earth is all of the zoned parking in the neighborhood 24 hours?” she asked, suggesting zones apply “maybe 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.” She said that change would allow visitors from outside the neighborhood to park on Loomis, Fillmore, Grenshaw, and other streets.

“If you drive down those streets, they are not full of cars,” Hynson said.

Hynson’s idea of more meters “is a great idea,” Barnes said. He also approves her idea for zone parking hours. “All residents care about is the ability to park at night and overnight,” Barnes said, warning the area needs good signage to spell out the restrictions.

Hynson also dislikes the location of a Divvy station across from her restaurant and almost outside the University Village Chiropractic clinic. The Divvy station occupies what were three metered parking spaces “we can ill afford to sacrifice,” she said. “Why not put it closer to Racine where the new parking lot lies or near or even in the Joe DiMaggio Plaza? Why does it have to be on the street?”

Photo by Troy Heinzeroth
Francesca’s now is parking patrons’ cars in a smaller lot than the one previously available.

Hard on patients, customers

University Village Chiropractic, two doors west of the old lot at 1354 W. Taylor, was the only non-restaurant business renting space in the lot. “Terrible” is how Sam Battaglia, DC, described the loss of the parking lot for patients. Fellow chiropractic physician Brian Miller, DC, agreed.

Many patients arrive in pain and have difficulty walking, Battaglia said, noting patients can only hope to nab one of the few metered spaces in front of the clinic. With City zone stickers, parking is available on Loomis Street and side streets, but that does not help patients who drive in from other areas, Battaglia added. Once the library is open, “It is only going to get worse,” he said. “Why couldn’t they have put the library on one of the many other vacant lots?”

“It is very nice to have a new library,” Hynson said. “I am sure that will be wonderful.” Officials need to figure out more viable parking, however. “They can come up with some good alternatives,” she added. “I am confident they can do it because other communities do.”

Barnes agreed. “We always knew that lot was going to go away.” Though the library could be a “really great thing,” community members were not well informed nor well consulted, he said.

One good thing came out of the library and parking issue, according to Barnes: community members learned “We all need to work together more,” he said. “What can we do to make the street feel more like Little Italy?”

Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association President Joseph Esposito said, “The Chicago Housing Authority [CHA] had every right to do as they pleased with the parking lot that they leased out to a number of neighborhood businesses by removing it for the planned library and housing, simply because CHA owns the land. CHA was also kind enough to allow a temporary parking lot to be put on the corner of Taylor and Racine, yet they stressed ‘temporary.’

“I am not positive at this moment if they are leasing this out, nor who the lessee is if they are,” Esposito continued. “The unfortunate point that the CHA fails to admit and understand, is that as they continue to build and develop the CHA land, pushing for more businesses along the way, and with all other developments in our surrounding area is the fact that not having a permanent parking lot will dramatically hurt any and all businesses willing to contribute to the Taylor Street-Little Italy Neighborhood, as I believe there will be an impact felt even with the temporary parking lot at Taylor and Racine due to its distance from the Taylor and Loomis businesses.

“LICNA has tried very hard to get this point across to CHA and our alderman [Jason Ervin, 28th Ward] currently to no avail,” Esposito said. “I can promise you that we will continue to fight for a permanent parking lot because LICNA believes that you can have a neighborhood jammed with businesses and residents but if you do not have sufficient parking you will not be able to prosper and thrive as if you did.”