By Tony Mazzarri and Christianne Lariosa
Posted: Monday, July 30, 2018
The corner of Clark Street and Belmont Avenue was once a city block in Chicago’s Lakeview area similar to many others in the neighborhood. Low-rise two story structures built decades ago contained a hookah lounge, an Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant, a lingerie shop and a Dunkin’ Donuts, among other businesses that came and went over the years.
With the exception of the Dunkin’ Donuts, these businesses were all locally-owned, independent and based in the Lakeview community. Their ease of access for both residents and people from outside of Lakeview via the Belmont CTA station just a block west made them all conveniently located for customers.
But in 2013, a city ordinance was passed that paved the way for “transit-oriented developments,” or TODs. TODs are built to serve multiple purposes, said Dr. P.S. Sriraj, the director of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.
“Public transportation thrives with higher densities," he said. "So from the transit perspective, the higher density is going to result in more ridership for the transit system.
“The other aspect, from the community perspective, is that it becomes the focal point of economic development.”
The corner of Clark and Belmont is one of many Chicago intersections to see a transit-oriented development constructed. BlitzLake Capital Partners, the group behind this development, initially proposed a 10-story building on this site, but according to DNAinfo.com, the plans were scaled back following several neighborhood meetings with local residents who expressed concerns about the size of the development.
With two stories taken off and less parking spaces available, the development at 3200 N. Clark Street was approved by the Planning Commission in 2014. By 2015, most of the original businesses in the spots were gone, and the buildings they were in were demolished by Spring that same year. And by 2017, the development was completed, with Target moving in as the main tenant of the building’s ground-floor retail.
While the Target at Clark and Belmont is one of the company’s smaller inner-city stores, as opposed to massive stores commonly found in other locations, some may question whether or not a large retailer chain such as Target opening up in an area like Lakeview is beneficial to the neighborhood or not, and some might wonder if it has the potential of overshadowing or overtaking the smaller and locally-owned businesses nearby.
Amigos & Us, near Belmont and Clark. (Photo/Tony Mazzarri)
Jeff Bantz, owner of Amigos & Us, a small shop selling vintage goods, said: “We’re getting more traffic in, and some of the Target customers come in with the bags and they come shopping here, too.”
One of the first things Bantz noticed after Target opened was that there are more people coming in and out of the shop. The items he stocks are clearly not the kind of thing Target would sell, but Target still managed to have an effect on his shop.
He was then asked if Target or other big box stores could take away from businesses or if they could be a positive addition to neighborhoods such as the one Amigos & Us is located in. “They’re bringing in more foot traffic. We don’t sell anything that they sell, so that won’t hurt our business.”
Grant Price, manager of The Exchange, a local chain that sells, buys and trades video games, movies and music, said he noticed “a little bit more foot traffic.”
“I think Target brings a different kind of clientele in the area,” he said, adding that rather than the typical Walgreens corner store that’s been located nearby for longer, Target customers spend more time shopping, and for more than just groceries.
The shop, which has been on Belmont for about 10 years, is small and located right down the street from the new Target. Upon questioning whether or not the Target had an effect on his store, Price much like Bantz, was positive in his response.
Asked if he thinks the Target being nearby helps business, he added, “I can’t say it’s hurt it, I think you really get a little bit more foot traffic. I’ve caught people in here with Target bags.”
“I think every situation is a little bit different on that. I think for us, the more foot traffic and the more people we can catch walking past and they see something that intrigues them in our window, I think that helps us. I think if anybody says ‘I go and get my groceries at Target and then I [want to] stop at a restaurant down the street,’ I think that’s only gonna get more people to look at your image.”
The image that was planned for the Belmont Target location was to not only promote foot-traffic, but to enhance safety. This Target was specifically placed near the Belmont CTA Red Line – a spot that has its share of crime. The burglaries and street harassments by the station has waned crowds of people to engage with the area. DNAinfo.com reported 44th Ward Alderman, Tom Tunney, pushed for transit-centric developments as more people occupying the area to shop means more eyes on the street.
Target isn’t the first big-box store to be used to create a flow of interlinking and utility. In 2015, Whole Foods placed a location right off Fullerton Red Line for the convenience of both DePaul students and Lincoln Park residents. Like Target, people could access the chain for all their grocery needs when they step off the train or bus. The constant milling about of Chicagoans in that area not only encourages more community curiosity, but also a neighborhood watch.
Despite the rising costs in an area, some of the positive impacts of TODs are that they can still improve small business, impact area engagement, and increase safety.
According to Sriraj, “Just by the nature of the increased density and activity. People tend to feel more safe. Perception is reality.
“Once you redesign that surrounding area next to a transit station, it becomes more amenable for people to partake in the public transportation system.”
Locals and shopkeepers are aware and vocal about how these big markets have changed the city. However, the markets themselves aren’t as vocal. Local managers were hesitant to comment and referred inquiries to corporate headquarters which would not respond. One Target manager offered to answer questions when she’s not working, but to not have it published.
Overall, do TODs have a positive impact on inner-city neighborhoods?
Sriraj said he believes the answer would be yes.
“Everyone benefits," he said. "That’s the whole idea of the TOD. it’s economic development for the entire area, not just one particular entity. Because it’s habitual. You get used to doing multiple things around the area, you can go ‘I’ve come this far to the Target, why not visit the next store and see what they’ve got.’ It may foster some economic impact on the others.”
Return to The Red Line Project
Feedback: Contact the reporter via Twitter or leave a comment below.