By LINDSAY WELBERS
Preservation Chicago President Ward Miller said he would like to see a positive outcome from the demolition of three greystone buildings on the 5100 block of South Harper Avenue.
Miller, who grew up in Hyde Park at the tail end of Urban Renewal, suggested MAC Properties could make amends with neighborhood preservationists by rehabilitating a decaying religious house.
One option he pointed to was St. Stephen’s Church, 5640 S. Blackstone Ave., which has been a vacant and boarded sore thumb on a residential street in Hyde Park for more than 15 years. It was first built at the turn of the 20th century as a Christian Science Church with neoclassical columns and a domed roof.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if MAC could invest in a plan that would preserve these significant features with a landmark designation promise?” Miller said.
He said he would like to see St. Stephen’s repurposed as a community space or an arts incubator, and if MAC were to take control of the properties it would repair damage done to neighborhood preservationists.
Ward also wants to see Hyde Parkers begin a conversation about creating a landmark district in the neighborhood, extending from where Kenwood’s landmark district ends at 51st Street and continuing to the southern end of campus.
A landmark district would protect the exteriors of buildings within an area from being changed extensively.
Landmark designations are granted to an area that can demonstrate two of seven criteria relating to its value as an example of local heritage, historical significance, artistic or architectural significance, as well as its integrity in its location, workmanship or community.
“Certainly [the landmark district] has helped Kenwood,” Miller said. “The traditional Kenwood, south of 47th, has really maintained those incredible, first rate houses that were custom designed by the great architects of our time and all the way back to the 19th century. And in North Kenwood we can see how it’s actually stabilized the neighborhood in a good way.”
The City’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks would grant the designation. A landmark designation can grant certain tax benefits that would reduce property taxes over a period of time for certain types of buildings, create tax credits for rehabilitation efforts, offers easements and rebates to protect and restore facades, as well as waive fees for building permits.
“When we invest in landmarks we are doing development,” Miller said. “This is the most sensitive type of development.”