Moving forward: Redevelopment approved, Lincoln Avenue businesses continue to struggle

Local businesses along Lincoln Avenue continue to struggle with the vacant lot at the old Children’s Memorial Hospital site. Help may be on the way as the redevelopment plan was approved by city council Wednesday, April 2.

The hospital closed in June 2012 when it moved to a new location in Streeterville. Lincoln Park businesses that were brave enough to open during the downturn hope business will pick up as the hospital site’s redevelopment begins.

Each year more than 265,000 impatient and outpatient children were cared for by Children’s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park. About 4,370 doctors, residents and staff plus visitors went in and out of the hospital each day.

Edzo’s, a unique burger shop, opened despite the difficult times and continues to find business through new and returning customers.

“The effect the closing has had on the area has certainly had an impact on the business,” Edzo’s owner, Eddie Lakin, said.

The closing of the hospital was felt immediately by businesses with established roots in the neighborhood, especially the Bourgeois Pig Caf’ÛΩ, a quaint caf’ÛΩ and deli that is located across the street from the former hospital on Fullerton Avenue.

Victor Moy, who serves as head of the kitchen at the caf’ÛΩ, described the change in business after the hospital closed as “dramatic.”

“We used to have at least one catering job from the hospital per week,” Moy said, looking at the old hospital grounds out the front windows of the caf’ÛΩ. According to Moy, the caf’ÛΩ now has to rely on regular business from customers to simply keep the establishment afloat.

When walking down the streets near the boarded up hospital, it is clear that the Bourgeois Pig is one of the few businesses that has managed to stay out of the red during this time of economic difficulty. In the area surrounding Children’s Memorial, boarded up storefronts and “For Sale” signs hang in the windows of businesses, including Spaces and Views, Lincoln Foods and Lincoln Park Station.

The Bourgeois Pig Caf’ÛΩ, along with other businesses throughout Lincoln Park have had to find ways to cope with the on-going lack in business.

Pita Pit’s Lincoln Park location has had to find new strategic business methods in order to cope with the change in business. Zeeyad Sbeih, owner and operator, said that in order to cope with the closing of the hospital, his business has had to downsize its staff.

“We are open the same amount of hours now, but have less staff than before,” Sbeih said.

For lunch, one of the restaurant’s busiest times of the day, Sbeih noted that he used to have three to four staff members working. Now, Sbeih is able to provide just two staff members for this shift.

The downsizing of the staff was not all the pita sandwich shop has had to do in order to stay afloat. “We buy less, we hire less, and we staff less,” Sbeih said.

However, after a long approval process led by Alderman Michele Smith, the old hospital grounds will be transformed into a development with 760 housing units and 105,000 square feet of retail space. The $350 million plan contains two 21-story apartment towers and one fivestory health club.

Although there has been a large amount of unrest among the Lincoln Park residents regarding these renovations, Lakin is thrilled at the passage of the plans and the potential for improved business.

“I’m happy they got the deal done and are moving forward with the development. Without a doubt, [the plans] will bring new life and vitality to the area,” Lakin said.

A construction deadline has not been set, but the project is estimated to take about three and a half to four years to complete.

The Sun-Times reported that Smith said “It is time to move forward. Our local businesses are struggling to hang on as the huge complex sits empty. The structure itself is starting to show neglect. The majority of the ward wants to accept this plan.”

Grant Myatt contributed to this story.