"Gypsies, pickpockets and even a man walking around with a chicken on his head. This was an edgy neighborhood back then. It was not for everybody," said Bill Lavicka, rehabber and preservationist.
He was reminiscing about the old days on
, the colorful marketplace and magnet for immigrants. "You could buy anything at the market, and everything was at a discount because many items were seconds or rejects," said Lavicka of Historic Boulevard Services. Also, it was rumored that some goods had been hijacked or stolen.
The guy with a chicken on his head would be amazed at the drastic changes that transformed historic Maxwell Street and the surrounding area south of Roosevelt Road in this
First came the
in the mid-1960s. Then 10 years ago, an instant college town was envisioned.
Called University Village, it was a blend of university residence halls and offices, housing, restaurants, shops, a parking structure and an existing chunk of green space — a huge ball field.
That multimillion-dollar building boom now has been completed. Less than a 10-minute drive from the Loop, the
of University Village lies at the intersection of Halsted and Maxwell streets.
On the surrounding 86 acres, 900 new residences have sprouted — town houses, condos, single-family homes and new dorms for 1,500 students.
And Maxwell Street? It has been gentrified and sanitized, although some of the old storefronts have been saved to recall the look of yesteryear. Jim's Polish sausage stand, an icon that once stood at the northwest corner of Maxwell and Halsted, survives at a nearby location on Union Street.
The Maxwell Street scene has changed from haggling shoppers and vendors to patrons relaxing at sidewalk cafes. The street musicians of the past are recalled by life-size statues of those blues performers.
Upscale and manicured, University Village looks like it has been around longer than 10 years. Landscaping has matured so that it doesn't have the barren appearance of many new housing developments.
But the question is whether it has become a real village and neighborhood.
"There's already a strong neighborhood feeling. It's like a secluded little village with a mix of couples, singles, families and college students," said Vikrant Viniak, a Loop management consultant and six-year resident of University Village.
"As a college town, it's a little bit like Evanston. Even in summer, when many of the students are away, it doesn't feel deserted," he added. "It's very diverse here as to age, profession and ethnicity. Shopping is not a problem.
, Dominick's, Walgreens and
The immediate neighborhood offers 140,000 square feet of retail space.
Recreation opportunities are close at hand at the vast UIC ball fields next to University Village.
Viniak and his wife, Nishtha, live in a town house with their 5-year-old son and newborn boy.
His biggest concern is that the public schools have not kept up with demand in the area. "Schools are an issue. There is no specific neighborhood school."
Another resident, Christine Wu, calls University Village "a happening place. There's always something going on."
A professor of pediatric dentistry at UIC, she said she moved to University Village five years ago because it's close to work.
Wu said University Village is still evolving as a community. "I would like to see resident activities, like block parties and other social activities for networking with the neighbors," she said.
An estimated 10 percent of buyers have a UIC connection, according to Ted Mazola, principal of New West Realty, sales and marketing arm of University Village.
"Because of the mix of housing types — from lofts to walkup condos to single-family homes — University Village is more like a city neighborhood than just a housing development," Mazola said.
He added that the spread in prices from $250,000 to $1 million has created diversity in buyers. Mazola noted that the price per square foot at University Village is substantially less than some North Side neighborhoods.
The South Campus Development Team that built University Village is a joint venture of Mesirow Stein Real Estate, the Harlem Irving Cos. and New Frontier Cos.
Vince Forgione, project manager for University Village, has been involved with it from the beginning.
"Designing it was a challenge. There were so many moving pieces and they kept moving. But I'm happy with what we created. People like the college town atmosphere and the vibrant street life," said Forgione of New Frontier Real Estate Development Inc.
He added that University Village helped anchor the neighborhood for the university and also has generated capital for university development.
Projected to be completed in 2008, it took an additional two years because of the economy. While all residences have been built, four remain to be sold. They include one single-family home and three town houses in the Ivy Hall section of University Village, east of Halsted.
The 4,299-square-foot, four-bedroom single-family home is priced at $1.3 million, while the two-bedroom town houses range from $544,900 to $825,000 with 2,148 to 3,001 square feet.
Michael Landek, associate chancellor for student affairs at UIC, described University Village as a "bridge between the campus and the surrounding city. It was branded as University Village and actually has acquired an identity unto itself.
"We have some great neighbors at University Village."
While the 26,000 UIC students and residents coexist peacefully, "we have had some disciplinary problems with students, but they have been minimal. The university police have helped in some responses," Landek said.
He added that the university's investment in the South Campus redevelopment project was almost $345 million.
That includes the 3,000-seat UIC Forum at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt. Landek noted that historic photos of the Maxwell Street Market can be viewed in the lobby of the UIC Forum.
Preservationist Lavicka said he spent a year of his life trying to save historic Maxwell Street structures. "We were able to save 11 facades and four buildings. That wasn't a great solution, but that's the way life is."