The former U.S. Bank building as it appeared in the fall of 2022 | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

As negotiations over the possibility of aneighborhood library moving into the redeveloped U.S. Bank building at 6700 W. North Ave. drag on, the developer is hoping that a petition from the residents of Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood would spur the city and the recently inaugurated Mayor Brandon Johnson into action.

Ever since the Chicago Public Library system moved the Galewood branch library to a room at the Rutherford-Sayre fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave., in 2010, residents have been clamoring for a larger space. There have been several plans to accomplish that. Most recently, Viktor Jakovljevic, developer of the former U.S. Bank building, agreed to set aside space on the first floor which the library would purchase, condo-style, and build out into a library. But negotiations have stalled as the two sides are trying to settle on a purchase price.

Last week, Galewood Neighbors and The North Avenue District launched a petition urging the city to get back on track. Galewood Neighbors president Steve Green told this newspaper that Jakovljevic suggested that a show of support from the community might help. While the developer is still interested in having the library in his building, there is only so long he can live with the indecision before deciding to lease or sell the space to someone else.

At 12,000 square feet, the new space would be a significant improvement over the 400-square-foot room in the park district fieldhouse, which was closed for much of the pandemic simply because its dimensions made social distancing impossible. Jakovljevic deliberately built out the library space to comply with the code requirements for a branch library. In 2019, State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th) and now-State Sen. President Don Harmon (39th) secured $600,000 in state capital funding for either building a new Galewood library or building out/renovating the existing building. The deadline to spend that money has been pushed back several times since then.

While Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes all of Galewood, has been supportive of the project, the library district insisted the U.S. Bank building was just one of the several possible sites. In the past, they also brought up the issue of funding the larger library’s operations. The most recent sticking point hinges on the value of the space.

During his May 27 community meeting, Taliaferro said the city sent an appraiser, and the price the appraiser came up with was too low for Jakovljevic. After some back and forth, the library system agreed the price was probably too low, so it’s sending a different appraiser. Taliaferro said that this may take another “3 to 4 months.”

He subsequently told this newspaper that, as of June 7, there hasn’t been any progress.

In a recent interview, Green said that Jakovljevic suggested that a petition showing that the community “still wants the library” wouldn’t hurt. They decided to time it until after the election was over and Johnson had a few weeks to settle in. But the new mayor’s approval, Green said, was vital for the project to get any traction.

Chicago’s library system is governed by a board of directors appointed by Chicago mayors. Furthermore, the library system works with the city on its capital projects, since it doesn’t have its own capital budget.

“It’s gone on for over 10 years, and left a lot of people frustrated, because Galewood residents wanted their own library,” Green said. “It seems like the closest we’ve been in a long time, there’s actually a place for it, the developer actually designed that first floor especially for the library, it’s perfect, it’s ready to go, it’s ready to be built out. So, to be so close and to have it fall through would’ve been very disappointing. We felt [the petition] would help to make a positive statement, to reinforce that people want a library.”

Judith Alexander of the North Avenue District said her organization agreed to help with the petition because they might be able to reach people Galewood Neighbors can’t.

“A library has never been more wanted anywhere than in Galewood,” she said. “They need a real library, and it will be used, absolutely no doubt about that. And the North Avenue location is absolutely a good one, because of the convenience. It’s on a couple of bus lines [CTA Route 72/North Avenue and Pace route 311], and there’s ample parking.”

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Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...