Lightfoot administration authorized to acquire shuttered West Side Aldi

The closing in October of the Aldi at 3835 W. Madison St. left roughly 150,000 residents of the West and East Garfield Park and Austin communities with precious few places to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

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A community resident in a wheelchair enters a grocery distribution event outside the closed Aldi at 3835 W. Madison St. in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, Saturday morning, Nov. 6, 2021. The event was held in response to the abrupt closing of the grocery store in October.

After the Aldi at 3835 W. Madison St. closed last year, some in the neighborhood protested and held a food-distribution event in the parking lot of the shuttered store. On Tuesday, a City Council committee approved a plan that authorizes the city to buy the property as a way to make sure that a grocery store returns to the site.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is so determined to rebuild the once-thriving Madison Street commercial corridor — and prevent a West Side food desert from getting bigger — she wants to spend $700,000 to acquire the site of a shuttered Aldi grocery store.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Housing Committee granted the mayor that acquisition authority, but not before a lengthy debate about taking a precedent-setting move without clear-cut standards going forward.

Aldi announced in mid-October that it was closing its West Garfield Park store at 3835 W. Madison St., which had been open 30 years.

That left a 15,000 sq. ft. hole in the Madison corridor and enlarged a “food desert” that has left roughly 150,000 residents of the West and East Garfield Park and Austin communities with precious few places to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

The city would acquire the site using tax increment financing funds. Then, it could either issue a request for proposals and bring a new grocer to the site, or use funds generated by the Madison-Central tax increment finance district to rehabilitate the property, making it more attractive to a future tenant, said Mike Parella, project manager of mixed-use development for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

Parella told the committee the city is “open to both options,” but either way, the city needs to “act quickly, should an opportunity to purchase the site present itself.”

Aldi is currently marketing the store and its adjacent parking lot for $700,000. Planning and Development is “working with Aldi and their broker to find a grocer who can occupy” the 15,000 sq.ft. building, Parella said.

“This is a strategic opportunity, given the location on Madison Street and the availability of a quality site. Aldi is the owner of the property. They’ve been noticed of our intentions. They’re listening. Potential acquisition authority gives us credibility when we come to them,” Parella said.

“Giving us this tool and providing some leverage and a seat at the table is really what we’re after.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) questioned whether it would now become the city’s “new policy … to jump into speculative real estate when situations like this arise” in wards like his own, with precious few food shopping choices.

“I have never seen [the Department of Planning and Development] jump within four months. Even when all of the same stars are in alignment as they are for this one. Particularly when you don’t have a new tenant at the ready,” said Lopez, one of Lightfoot’s most outspoken Council critics.

“If this is going to be the new standard for prospective acquisitions, then I hope DPD applies that same standard to all neighborhoods and not just select neighborhoods.”

Jesus Ramirez crosses the street while holding two bags of groceries during a grocery distribution event outside the closed Aldi at 3835 W. Madison St. in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, Saturday morning, Nov. 6, 2021.

City officials say they want to act to prevent a West Side “food desert” situation from getting worse after an Aldi store closed last fall. If the city is authorized to buy the property, the thinking goes, it will have more leverage in efforts to attract a new grocer to the site.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) said there has to be a “set policy.” He can’t be “getting beat up” about the shuttered Aldi and CVS stores along 79th Street while the city moves quickly to acquire a shuttered Aldi in Ald. Jason Ervin’s 28th Ward.

Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), another persistent Lightfoot critic, noted Aldi closed the West Garfield Park store after 30 years, in large part, because of security concerns.

“What does this solve when you haven’t done anything about the core issue, which is crime?” Beale told the Sun-Times.

“We will have spent $700,000 to reward an entity that just pulled out of the community. And we’ll be left with a piece of property we can’t do anything with that we’ve taken off the tax rolls. So we’re losing twice.”

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said the city must have a “clear understanding” of why Aldi left to avoid the same mistakes with “whatever store goes in there — because it’s desperately needed in that area.”

Parella would say only that Aldi officials expressed “security concerns” in the past and the city was “looking holistically at the corridor in trying to align funding that would help with any security concerns that may exist” along Madison Street.

Ervin urged his colleagues to put aside concerns of favoritism to breathe new life into a commercial corridor he called the “main vein” of the West Side.

“We believe that the city playing a role in the acquisition of this site will help maintain what the community wants to see, which is a grocery store at that particular location, which has served the community for the last 30 years. It doesn’t have to be Aldi. It can be whatever the community wants,” he said.

“This is not a very expensive proposition. … We do need to step up and step in to keep this out of the hands of individuals that aren’t in line with what the community” wants, Ervin added.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) noted that this particular Aldi had been “one of the most positive and stable things” in an area that has “suffered since Dr. Martin Luther King” Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

“To allow that to go would almost be taking us way back,” Burnett said.

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