Tuesday, June 27, 2017

North River Commission Grows Chicago’s Northwest Business Districts through Beautification


North River Commission Grows Chicago’s Northwest Business Districts
through Beautification Strategies

Chicago’s northwest Albany Park and Irving Park business districts are in full bloom and not just due to Mother Nature. North River Commission (NRC), a nonprofit community and economic development organization, is the service provider for Special Service Area #60 (SSA). In collaboration with business leaders, North River Commission launched an array of beautification strategies designed to catalyze growth in the business districts by attracting customers and new businesses.

Beautification of business districts, by creating more attractive main streets, is an important priority for NRC as an aesthetically pleasing environment is beneficial to both businesses and residents. Thanks to entrepreneurial businesses and NRC’s Montrose Pilot Project, Albany Park and Irving Park are experiencing a boom in commerce and consumer traffic.

“Our strategy is to engage business leaders and residents in guiding improvements that celebrate Albany Park and Irving Park as destinations to work, play, eat, and drink,” says Duka Dabovic, Economic Development Coordinator North River Commission.

Creating vibrant districts means partnering with businesses to provide enticing spaces that meet people’s social desires. For many Chicagoans, dining outdoors tops the summer to-do list. However, the West Montrose side of the Chicago River’s north branch doesn’t have a single patio east of Harlem Avenue, according to Ramez Fakhoury, owner of Angelo’s Wine Bar (3026 W. Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-539-0111). “I was going to do an outdoor patio regardless but there were a lot of hoops I had to jump through,” Fakhoury says. “Duka approached me and told me about the SSA Façade Program which helped out a lot.”

The SSA Façade Improvement Program gives business owners an incentive and support to beautify the outside of their buildings. Projects include putting up new lights, signs and awnings, tuck pointing, replacing windows, painting rusting balconies and assisting with complete facade makeovers. To receive a rebate, business owners simply need to bring their idea to the SSA team and fill out an application. Once their plan is approved by the SSA Commission, owners can start their projects. Rebates are awarded after the renovation is complete and cover 50% of the cost up to $7,500 for one storefront or $20,000 for improvements of three or more storefronts per building.

For Angelo’s new outdoor patio, the SSA Façade Improvement Program helped offset the cost of pouring new concrete, which created a 700 square foot patio on the restaurant’s west side. The space is accessorized with rustic wooden flower planters, custom metal fences, an L-shaped bench, fire pit, four seater lounge area, string lights and outdoor speakers, making it the perfect summer hang out spot.
The outdoor dining space is the next step of Angelo’s extensive facelift. Founded by Jimmy Angelo, this formerly simple, Italian pizzeria was more of a take-out stand than a sit-down restaurant. When Fakhoury took over in 2004, he saw that the neighborhood was changing. Beer gardens and breweries were popping up, bringing new clientele into the area and presenting an opportunity for a new concept—a wine bar.

While Fakhoury kept the original pick-up business as a tribute to his family and to Angelo’s long time customers, the renovation allowed the restaurant to welcome a new, much more diverse crowd seeking the Neapolitan style food, robust wine selection, house-made vermouth and elegant cocktails. “I see a lot of the working class coming in after work, soccer moms, couples enjoying date night and a lot of families and kids,” says Fakhoury, “it’s a neighborhood spot now.”

While Angelo’s now boasts one of the area’s few outdoor patios, another option for diners to enjoy a warm summer breeze is nearby on Irving Park. The SSA Façade Program allowed Tano’s Pizzeria (3038 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-478-3070) to replace its old storefront windows with large, retractable glass doors accentuated by a beautiful custom railing. “The goal was to bring ‘a fresh air’ dining experience to our customers when the weather is nice,” says Tom Guagliardo, owner of Tano’s. In addition to creating an inviting, open air atmosphere, the project dramatically increased the restaurant’s curb appeal, catching the eyes of motorists driving down the street and customers seeking alfresco dining.
Over the five years Tano’s has been open, the restaurant established itself as a place for everyone. “There is nothing typical about our crowd because of the neighborhood,” says Guagliardo. “Lunch brings in construction workers and neighborhood office workers while dinner can bring in anybody from a single neighborhood artist to a rowdy family of eight. But for the past few years every spring and summer we hear the same story almost daily, a young family will walk in and say "Hi, we are new to the neighborhood, just moved in down the street, and we are looking for our new pizza place!" More often than not, they become regular customers,” he says.

The community’s warm welcoming and ongoing support of his business is extra special for Guagliardo, whose parents owned a restaurant called Manzo's a few blocks west of Tano’s for more than twenty years. “I basically grew up in that restaurant,” says Guagliardo, “that restaurant and this community who supported it for 50 plus years raised me.” As a result, opening Tano’s in Irving Park was a no brainer. From the real family photos hanging in the dining room walls to the beautiful new, open façade, Tano’s celebrates the community’s welcoming inclusivity and sense of family.

For Mir Naghavi, owner of Noon O Kabab (4651 N. Kedzie, Chicago IL 60618; (773) 279-9309), the community’s supportive and inclusive nature encouraged him to expand his humble Persian restaurant from a small, family-owned, 11-table restaurant to a multi-location restaurant group. “We wanted to make good Persian food everyone could enjoy,” says Naghavi. With its quiet ambiance, soft lighting, gentle Persian music and exquisite Persian tiles depicting Sufi fables and tales decorating the walls, Noon O Kabab quickly cemented itself in the neighborhood as a place where the community could enjoy food and each other's company.

Noon O Kabab’s success is a testament to the community’s support of local business. Across the street from Naghavi’s restaurant was a location for a globally popular fast food chain—Kentucky Fried Chicken. However, the fast foot joint could not compete with the local business like Noon O Kabab, Tano’s Pizzeria and Angelo’s Wine Bar whose owners are as passionate about serving delicious food as they are about the Albany Park community. Eventually the KFC closed, disintegrating into a dilapidated eyesore.
While everyone saw an eyesore, Naghavi saw opportunity. A staunch believer in the area’s potential, Naghavi is known for encouraging other business owners to take pride in where their businesses live. So when the time came to expand, Naghavi simply looked across the street. Renovating the beat-up KFC into a third location for the beloved Noon O Kabab (4651 N. Kedzie, Chicago IL 60618; (773) 279-8899) was a rebirth of sorts; it beautified the area by eliminating the decrepit building and reinvigorated business in the area by adding 2,300 square feet of fast casual dining space and a catering kitchen that can fulfill orders for parties up to 700 people. The renovation is the first phase of a larger plan Naghavi has for his restaurant and Albany Park. While he undertook renovations on his own, he turned to NRC for help on phase two—installing new retractable windows and signage.

NRC’s Dabovic credits the restaurant’s success to Naghavi’s passion and to Albany Park’s famously diverse residents. Albany Park has always been a welcoming community for immigrants building new lives in Chicago, and is proud to continue celebrating that diversity today. Dabovic enthusiastically states the NRC’s district development strategies enhance interactions and endless chance encounters. “We embrace diversity in the neighborhood,” says Dabovic. Business district beautification encourages people to hang out in the area and meet each other in the stores, coffee shops, ice cream parlors and restaurants. By bringing people together, NRC is celebrating and protecting Albany Park’s harmony of different cultures and thus its identity as a Chicago neighborhood.
Montrose Pilot Project
Besides the Façade Program, a new initiative of the Albany Park & Irving Park Special Service Area is the Montrose Pilot Project, which makes the business district more inviting to customers by adding pizzazz between Troy and Mozart along Montrose. “We want to celebrate a sense of place along Montrose, capitalizing on all of the positive public and private investment that has taken place there,” says Dabovic, who enlisted help from Bark Design (3115 W. Montrose Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618; 773- 539-7185) to design the banners which highlight the businesses and services along Montrose.

Wanting to capture Albany Park’s unique spirit and add vibrant colors to the street, business leaders collaborated on new benches, bike racks, trash cans and street banners. The banners will be a major focal point and help mark the area. “We want to add color and brightness to the neighborhood but also want it to be different,” says John Bistolfo, Founder and Design Strategist of Bark Design. In a nod to the area’s ethnic diversity, the banners use bright colors to reflect the neighborhoods’ different cultures. Scheduled to be installed by the end of summer, the banners will be simple, distinct and only contain one verb to tie into the business they are in front of rather than being loaded with information. Examples include “PRIMP” for Supreme Beauty Parlor, “BREW” for the new Ravinia Brewery and “CONQUER” for Junior Ninja Warriors.

In addition to banners, the project includes new benches, bike racks, trashcans and landscaping for more pops of color. Flowers will be planted and the large planters, along with existing bike racks and trashcans, will get some TLC—a deep clean and paint job.

Greening the Districts
Trees are a critical part of a city’s infrastructure and play an important role in encouraging shoppers to spend more time and money in business districts. Adding trees also improves the quality of urban life aesthetically, economically, socially and environmentally. Recognizing the benefits of increasing Albany Park’s urban forest, NRC, through the Special Service Area, begun a multi-year plan to inventory, maintain, and plant trees along the business district sidewalks.

The SSA Commissioners, made up of area business leaders, are working with Bartlett Tree Experts on selecting the best trees and the best locations for the project. Many locations are existing, empty tree pits that have been an unsightly nuisance for years. Now, vibrant healthy trees will beautify the business districts, as NRC plants 30 or more trees per year along Lawrence, Kedzie, Montrose, and Irving Park roads.

North River Commission (3403 W. Lawrence Ave suite 201, Chicago, IL 60625; 773-478-0202 x114) is the nonprofit community and economic development corporation for the northwest side of Chicago, from the Chicago River to Cicero and Addison to Devon. Founded in 1962 by concerned residents and neighborhood institutions, NRC unites more than 100 civic associations, businesses, schools, institutions and places of worship to improve the quality of life in the community by creating affordable housing, quality education, arts & cultural endeavors, open spaces, and thriving neighborhood businesses. North River Commission operates the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce as part of its economic development strategy. Learn more about the NRC at northrivercommission.org and follow their news on Twitter @NRCchicago and on Facebook.

The Albany Park Chamber of Commerce supports, advocates for and promotes its members and local businesses in the Albany Park, Irving Park, Mayfair, and North Park business districts. The Chamber provides resources that strengthen and physically improve area businesses. It attracts new businesses and investment to the community. It beautifies the commercial districts to further stimulate development and to enhance culture, dining, shopping and entertainment on Chicago's northwest side. Learn more at albanyparkchamber.org  and follow their news on Twitter @AlbanyPkChamber and on Facebook.

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