Last weekend, two exciting new venues opened their doors in Rogers Park.

On Sheridan Road, entrepreneur Liz Ahearn opened a destination business called “Picnic Wine and Provisions” where patrons can connect over wine, food and more. Picnic also will also “sell wonderful wines, a variety of platters and small plates, coffee and conversation, indoors and outdoors.” With highly successful Rogers Park Provisions celebrating its fourth year on Glenwood, and Taste Food and Wine offering the same on Jarvis Square (near the El line), Rogers Park can now proudly proclaim that we are the most “provisionist” community in the Midwest!

Also this past weekend, Whiskey Hill Pizza and Brewery celebrated its grand opening. The restaurant has a comfortable inviting ambience with a great looking bar, large televisions, tasty brew and wonderful food that has given the Salerno family the deserved reputation as great Chicago Italian restauranteurs. With Sol Café, Factory Theater and another successful business soon to open, RPBG Director and developer Jay Johnson is completing a vision of providing exceptional destination venues in the Howard Theater building.

Our community embraces these restaurant openings. Unfortunately, in recent months Rogers Park and the area just west of us has also seen a range of restaurants and businesses close their doors – including a couple of classic long term institutions. Its sad to lose classic area businesses like Gulliver’s, Leona’s, and Baker Square, and a few other local favorites. Clearly, Rogers Park is not Logan Square!

In fact, Rogers Park continues to see a drop in population. Recently WBEZ reported on population changes in Chicago’s 77 communities. Included is a map which shows that every north lakefront neighborhood except one saw an increase in population.

Sadly, we are the exception.

Per the study, Rogers Park lost just under 2,500 people since 2012, part of a trend that began in the early 2000s. According to the U.S. Census, Rogers Park’s population went from 63,484 in 2000, to 54,991 in 2010, a 13.4% drop. This explains in part why many of our local businesses and restaurants struggle as they compete over a shrinking customer base.

For this reason, it is heartening to see that the former Heartland site – which previously had no dwelling units – will likely be replaced with up to 40 new quality apartments. Reasonable folks might disagree as to whether the look of the new building captures the character and energy of the Glenwood Arts District. That concern aside, the addition of these new units, along with additional apartments recently brought on line just east on Morse, can and will positively impact the retail corridor on Morse and Glenwood.

(Of course, a segment of the local community wish we could have gone further. Had Alderwoman Hadden agreed to a zoning variance proposed by the developer seeking 5 more feet in height, the community could have had an additional 20 apartments, which would have included six affordable units. Instead, with the developer restricted to current zoning requirements, there will be no requirement to include affordable units.)

Key parcels remain in the neighborhood that, if developed responsibly, could add many new mixed income dwelling units to our community. These developments, if they occur, can offer a strong boost to our local businesses and schools, and improve our neighborhood’s vibrancy.

We encourage Alderwoman Hadden to be open to new development proposals. Population growth is the key to our neighborhood’s success – as we will benefit with added density.

Economic growth brings vitality, jobs and excitement to the neighborhood. New families include children who can attend our schools; new residents support local businesses. Some of these new residents will volunteer for local non-profit organizations, bringing their talents, resources and dollars to the area and helping these organizations be successful. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops, apparel stores, dry cleaners and amazing yoga, art and dance studios like the businesses along the dynamic and more serene side of Glenwood, east of the El (shout out to Centered Studios!) can all prosper and contribute to a more vibrant Rogers Park.

New construction adds jobs, increases our tax base, with added tax revenue bringing much needed capital investment in our infrastructure. With responsible investment and development, our community can thrive and continue Rogers Park’s reputation as being a wonderfully diverse place for folks to live, work and buy plenty of provisions!