THREATENED: Redevelopment Proposals Due October 31 for Washington Park National Bank Building

Washington Park National Bank Building, 6300 South Cottage Grove, Photo Credit: Indiana University Archives
Washington Park National Bank Building, 6300 South Cottage Grove, Photo Credit: Indiana University Archives

The Cook County Land Bank Authority (CCLBA) released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek developers to explore redevelopment proposals for the Washington Park National Bank. The deadline to submit a proposal is October 31st, 2018, with a final decision deadline of December 13th, 2018. Under the leadership of executive director Rob Rose, the Cook County Land Bank Authority partnered with Metropolitan Planning Council to facilitate a three-part, community-led redevelopment process of the Washington Park National Bank Building to generate community input into how the building should be repurposed.

While the RFP recognizes the benefit of historic preservation, unfortunately, the language does not prioritize historic preservation.

“Benefits of Historic Preservation – The CCLBA also recognizes the sustainability benefits of adaptive reuse and historic preservation which in many cases provide the most comprehensive method of sustainable development – provided they also serve to achieve the economic development, community building and revenue generating objective of the CCLBA – without compromising or constraining the best redevelopment solutions.” (CCLBA RFP)

Adaptive reuse is often more complicated that new construction, however, if revenue generation is a priority for the CCLBA, there are many economic incentives to make the preservation option economically the most attractive. Economic incentives might include federal historic tax credits, state historic tax credits, Class L designation, eligibility for Adopt-a-Landmark funds, and others, none of which are available to new construction.

A Structural Assessment Report of the Washington Park National Bank was completed as part of the RFP process by Probe Consulting Services in August 2018. While the report acknowledges that the building is littered with construction debris from decades of neglect, it concludes that “that the existing framing system of the building is structurally sound, intact, and still in good condition and that the building is salvageable and can be repaired to restore its full structural integrity.”

Washington Park National Bank Building, 6300 South Cottage Grove, Cook County Land Bank Authority RFP, Structural Assessment Report Probe Consulting Services, August 2018

Located at 6300 S. Cottage Grove, the Washington Park National Bank Building was constructed in 1924 by architect Albert Schwartz. The building’s elegant Bedford Indiana limestone façade includes Corinthian pilasters, a projecting cornice, and decorative parapet, with the historic Washington Park National Bank name chiseled into the limestone entablature. Unfortunately, the Washington Park National Bank Building has no landmark protections against demolition.

The four-story neo-classical bank building was an anchor building in the once bustling 63rd Street commercial district. This district contained many great entertainment venues, hotels, ballrooms and was a center of the South Side. The area was a prominent hub for Jazz-era clubs and all forms of entertainment and shopping flourished into the 1960s. After the community suffered a period of extended decline and disinvestment, the Washington Park National Bank Building was mothballed and fell into disrepair.

The Cook County Land Bank Authority was created in 2013 by the Cook County Government to spur development by obtaining, refurbishing, and selling off vacant, abandoned, or tax-delinquent properties across the city. “The Cook County Land Bank Authority acquired the Washington Park National Bank in a tax sale auction. According to records from the Cook County Clerk’s Office, the property had accumulated more than $500,000 in unpaid taxes since 1996. The prior ownership was the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation. Community Development Corporation and the church (until recently known as the Christ Apostolic Church), are both affiliated with Reverend Leon Finney.” (Belanger, South Side Weekly, 12/20/17)

Demolition should not be an option considered for this historic building. The Woodlawn community is strong and resilient, but has suffered through decades of disinvestment and demolition, and the vacant lots that follow. The community is burdened by too many empty lots already and any new construction ideas should be directed to towards activating a vacant lot, not destroying a neglected, yet important community landmark and anchor.

Now is the time to adaptively reuse the Washington Park National Bank Building. Woodlawn and this once prominent commercial corridor is again experiencing reinvestment. The nearby Grand Ballroom at 6351 S. Cottage Grove Avenue by architects Lowenburg + Lowenburg from 1923 was beautifully restored recently.

Additionally, the long-vacant former Strand Hotel across the street was adaptively reused as a residential apartment building with street level retail and art gallery. The Strand Hotel received a Landmark Illinois preservation award which praised it as “an inspiring example of how historical preservation can spark positive redevelopment and reuse.”

Preservation Chicago applauds the Cook County Land Bank Authority and the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) for coordinating and facilitating the workshop and RFP process to catalyze the redevelopment of this historic building. The Washington Park National Bank Building is an important neighborhood anchor on a commercial corridor that has seen the tragic loss of many important building. It is it essential for the long-term reinvestment and prosperity of this commercial district that this historic building be preserved and redeveloped.

Additional Reading
Land Bank seeks partnership to redevelop Washington Park Bank, Chicago Crusader, 9/14/18

Long-Vacant Washington Park National Bank Could See New Life (And Construction Jobs For Locals), Troy Closson, Block Club Chicago, 8/24/18

Cook County Land Bank Seeks To Redevelop The Old Washington Park Bank Building, Katherine Newman, Weekly Citizen, 9/26/18

Closer to Resurrection; Cook County Land Bank Authority announces community-led redevelopment of historic bank building in Woodlawn, Christian Belanger, South Side Weekly, 12/20/17

Request For Proposals: Master Developer for the Purchase & Redevelopment of the Washington Park National Bank Building (Released 9/10/2018)

REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFP) Master Developer for the Purchase and Redevelopment of the Washington Park National Bank Building 6300 S. Cottage Grove, Chicago Illinois

Structural Assessment Report, Washington Park National Bank, Probe Consulting Services, April 2018, Revised August 2018

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