1535 N. Pulaski Road is not your average Chicago building. Modeled after 17th and 18th century Spanish Baroque architecture, a two-story building with an ivory terracotta facade, the Pioneer Arcade in Humboldt Park was once an indoor recreation center, bowling alley, and billiards hall that operated for about 80 years.
Now the building’s ornate exterior has masked its hollow interior from its early days, and more empty years are likely to come as renovation plans stall.
The proposed site project is in jeopardy after the Chicago Department of Housing has twice rejected the Hispanic Housing Development Corp.’s request. on financial support for just over $7 million in low-income housing tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority will build 61 units of affordable housing for seniors.
Without the city’s support, HHDC may have to forgo a $6 million grant from Housing and Urban Development and the possibility of an additional $24 million in federal rental subsidies to help the developer maintain the affordability of the proposed building over a 40-year period.
The development corporation received an extension from HUD from July 2023 to July 2024, when it must begin work on the project, and the group can only get one more extension to the five-year deadline.
“We’re dead with this project,” said Ippolito “Paul” Roldan, president and CEO of the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation. “We don’t know if HUD will give us another extension on top of this, given that the city has not expressed interest in supporting (our project).”
The $6 million grant came from HUD Section 202 funding, money earmarked for housing for low-income seniors. For HUD’s FY 2020 funding round, 37 projects out of 132 applicants were selected for grants totaling approximately $150 million, with the Hispanic Housing Development Corp. was the only one in Illinois.
Hispanic Housing and Development Corp. — a Chicago-based Midwest affordable housing developer focused on Latino neighborhoods — purchased the Pioneer Arcade building in 2005 and received a HUD grant in 2021, with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development pledging its support in a letter to HUD.
In a May 2021 letter, DPD called the project an “anchor” for its community and “an integral part of the city’s Invest South/West effort in Humboldt Park.”
The development corporation needs Low-Income Housing Tax Credit funds — tax credits intended for developers of affordable housing — to raise the bulk of the capital needed for the project in the private market, which is “virtually impossible” without it, Roldan said.
The Pioneer Arcade building is also in one of the city’s many tax-financed districts, where developers can make infrastructure and other community improvements using funds pooled from the district’s property taxes. According to the City of Chicago’s website page for the Pulaski TIF Corridor, where the Pioneer Arcade is located, development priorities in the area include “land acquisition initiatives, rehabilitation efforts and public works improvements that ease traffic flow and improve public transportation amenities.” »
Over the past several years, the City has included the Pioneer Arcade renovation in various Invest South/West information and promotional materials.
Down the street from the Pioneer Arcade building is the former Pioneer Bank building, which provided the financial backing A $53 million development project as part of the city’s Invest South/West initiative. DPD’s “neighborhood context” section of Pioneer Bank’s April 2021 RFP review calls the Pioneer Arcade building renovation “transformational” with the restoration of the arcade and bank buildings bringing “life back to the north.” and Pulaski intersection and ensure affordable housing is preserved so local residents can stay in the neighborhood.”
And most recently, with the November 2022 Invest South/West three-year city update, the Pioneer Arcade redevelopment is highlighted in the pages of development plans for Humboldt Park along the North Avenue corridor.
William “Bill” Smiljanic-Perez, a board member of the community group Noble Neighbors in Humboldt Park, believes Invest South/West is falling short of its goals when it comes to renovating the Pioneer Arcade building.
“For nearly a decade, we’ve worked to push back gentrification moving west of the 606 and displacing our most vulnerable neighbors, but the city is blocking highly affordable housing for Humboldt Park’s long-deprived seniors.” , — Smilyanich-Peres. the statement said. “That doesn’t make sense!”
In an email to the Tribune, Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Marissa Novara said, “Until Congress funds affordable housing as a right, affordable housing developers will receive more nos than yess in state and local funding rounds . This round of applications to the Illinois Housing Authority (IHDA) is no different, with the state receiving 19 requests for development in Chicago, while they typically have the resources to support approximately three.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office declined to comment further.
According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, one of the developments that received a letter of support from the Ministry of Health was the Pioneer Bank restoration project. Pioneer Bank Redevelopment has asked IDHA for $1.5 million in low-income housing tax credits.
Roldan said he will ask HUD for another extension, but he doubts his organization will get one.
“What can we offer HUD in terms of comfort that we will convince the city to fund this when they have already turned us down twice?” Roldan said. “HUD requires a certain amount of trust that the city is going to reinforce. … We don’t have enough time, and we don’t have enough excuses.”
Given a preliminary designation as a historic landmark late last year, with an official designation potentially on the horizon as a proposal was presented to the City Council in January, the Pioneer Arcade should retain its facade and preserve the interior during restoration.
Development of the Pioneer Arcade began in 1924 at a cost of $350,000 on what was then Crawford Avenue.
A June 22, 1924 Tribune article states that architect Jens J. Jensen’s plans for the Pioneer Arcade state that the building “will be one of the most elaborate recreational buildings in the city.” The writer reports that the Pioneer Arcade will have four stores on the ground floor, with a main floor lobby leading to a 35-table billiards room and an elaborate staircase leading to a recreation area with 20 bowling lanes and seating for 600 spectators.
It was last owned by Pioneer Lanes bowling alley, owned by “entrepreneur and champion bowler Luis Gonzalez” before it was sold to the Hispanic Housing Development Corp., according to a December report on the building’s final use.
The development corporation faced problems from the beginning in the reconstruction of the project: the financial crisis of 2008 began shortly after the purchase of the property, which the company originally intended to build as affordable housing for purchase. The project had not yet been launched before the pandemic began, further delaying its development, Roldan said.
With its grand, hard-to-see facade paired with boarded-up storefront windows on the site that once housed Two Pals Lunch and Arcade Barber Shop, Pioneer Arcade continues to gather dust as the fate of its redevelopment remains in limbo.
Around the block, Roldan’s organization built a 72-unit affordable senior home on the southeast corner of Pulaski Road and North Avenue. The building was completed about a decade ago and is 100% occupied, and the waiting list is closed to limit expectations that people will be able to get a unit sooner than a few years from now, Roldan said.
“Every time we complete a project, we can have 100 units and 800 families,” Roldan said. “I think (renovating the Pioneer Arcade) is important to the community because of the significant need.”
Henry Birdsong, a 67-year-old resident of the Pulaski and North building, said he sees the need firsthand.
“We have so many people on the streets because there’s not enough affordable housing,” said Birdsong, who has lived in his apartment for about seven years and works as a security guard at the condominium. “The loss of this project would speak for itself: There is simply no housing for seniors (who are) low-income in the community. … We really need an older building.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Marianne Mather contributed.