South Shore church covets parking lot, worries about developer’s plans

SHARE South Shore church covets parking lot, worries about developer’s plans

Standing in the parking lot across the street from Bryn Mawr Church are John Lewis, left, Sherman and Carol Perrie, and Robert Van Puyenbroeck. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

Residents of the South Shore neighborhood who’ve lost their local grocery store, hardware store, clothing stores and community bank now find themselves fighting to keep out a McDonald’s restaurant they say would increase traffic, crime and unhealthy eating habits.

They say Urban Partnership Bank, the owner of a locked-up former bank parking lot at 7001 S. Jeffery Blvd., won’t work with the historic Bryn Mawr Community Church across the street to let them use the lot. Residents and church members say the 232-space parking lot is a community resource that would provide affordable, much-needed parking in a densely populated area where the Chicago Transit Authority’s new Jeffery Jump Bus route has squeezed out street parking.

The lot also would give Bryn Mawr Community Church members convenient parking not just on Sundays but for social, educational and other group meetings during the week. The church has no parking lot of its own.

Residents say developers retained by the bank have told them at community meetings that a McDonald’s franchise is the only retailer interested in building on the lot, if it is rezoned and developed.

“We are in a blighted area with stores closing, most notably the Dominick’s grocery store and an Ace Hardware store [in the Jeffery Plaza shopping center at 71st and Jeffery Boulevard], so why would the bank want to tear down the bank building and build a strip mall on the property with a McDonald’s there?” said John L. Lewis, chairman of the board of trustees at Bryn Mawr Community Church and a 39-year resident of the South Shore’s Jackson Park-Highland neighborhood.

Carol Perrie, a 45-year-long neighborhood resident, put it more bluntly: “We need a McDonald’s like we need a hole in the head.”

If commercial development must occur, Perrie said the neighborhood needs a family-style restaurant where she would feel comfortable taking her great-great-grandchildren to eat.

Vera Ball, president of the 6900 Chappel Block Club and a 39-year neighborhood resident, called the idea of a McDonald’s restaurant “disgusting, appalling, insulting and heartbreaking.”

“We want something upscale,” she said.

One reason Urban Partnership Bank may be intent on developing the property is because it bought the parking lot and two buildings that once housed its predecessor community bank, ShoreBank, in a fire sale from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and stands to make a tidy profit if the property is rezoned for commercial use, residents speculate.

They point out that the chairman of Urban Partnership Bank, David Vitale, is president of the Chicago Board of Education and no ingénue in the way of working profitable deals.

The church used the parking lot for its Sunday services and weekday community meetings for nearly 40 years when the lot was owned by ShoreBank, Lewis said.

But ShoreBank failed during the recession. A group of philanthropic and financial institutions acquired ShoreBank’s deposits and most of its assets from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and opened as Urban Partnership Bank in August 2010. Urban Partnership acquired the ShoreBank bank building at 7054 S. Jeffery, along with the parking lot, and also a property with ATMs and a drive-through west of the bank building.

Urban Partnership Bank bought the parking lot for $85,000 from the FDIC, Lewis said, citing property records.

Lewis said the church is willing to buy the parking lot for that same amount, but he said the bank won’t make a deal because the property is under contract.

In December 2013, Urban Partnership Bank announced it would close the bank at 7054 S. Jeffery and had agreed to sell it and the remaining properties to Monroe Investment Partners LLC, a Chicago-based real-estate developer and investor.

On March 23, 2014, church members found themselves locked out of the parking lot. The bank has allowed the church to use the lot just once since then — on Jan. 3, when it hosted the funeral of a well-known civic leader. Lewis said the bank insisted on reviewing a draft copy of the deceased’s obituary before letting the church use the parking lot.

The bank’s spokesman, Brian Berg, issued a statement saying the bank continues to “be in discussions with the developer, the alderman and the community regarding the best possible solution for the property.”

Urban Partnership Bank’s statement says the bank’s mission is to develop communities by importing capital, restructuring troubled loans and providing access to affordable financial services. It points out that the bank works with many faith-based institutions to help them keep their properties. The bank has worked “very closely with faith-based leaders and members of the community to restructure 49 distressed loans from the faith-based portfolio” acquired from the FDIC, the bank said in the statement.

Monroe Investment Partners Manager Donald Allen declined to comment on Friday. Oak Brook-based McDonald’s Corp. did not respond to requests for comment.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said Friday that she will support the residents’ wishes, and that she and Monroe Partners are working to attract tenants to all three bank properties that would be welcomed by the local residents.

“You’ve got to have tenants,” she said.


Urban Partnership Bank has closed and its parking lot has been locked up. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

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