Hints that a renowned comedy club could close over a lost North Loop parking lot have drawn attention from national comics and brought an emotional crowd — many from the stand-up community — to City Hall on Monday night.
Local developer Solhem Companies has proposed erecting a seven-story apartment building on a site now occupied by a 120-stall parking lot on 1st Street N. Highlighting the potential that the Acme Comedy Company might move or close as a result, a petition opposing the project attracted more than 5,800 signatures — including a "SAVE ACME!" tweet from comedian Marc Maron.
"The rest of the world is jealous that Prince lived here. They're also jealous that Acme is here," testified comedian David Huntsberger, a Los Angeles comedian performing at Acme this week. "Don't lose both of them."
The club's owner wasn't threatening to close his business after Monday's hearing, however, and the City Council member representing the area said the city was making progress trying to free up more parking options.
"We've been working extensively … with Acme to find a solution, including on-street parking, additional meters, accessing existing ramps during new times," said Council Member Jacob Frey. "They've very clearly said we're on the right track."
Though many development projects spur parking concerns, rarely has a crowd appeared at City Hall to preserve a surface parking lot. City policies generally discourage them as an unattractive, poor use of valuable land, particularly in walkable areas near downtown.
"It would destroy the currently thriving community to not have parking available for residents coming in to support the businesses," said James Moore.
Following emotional testimony from Acme devotees on Monday night, the city's Planning Commission voted to approve the apartment project, since it largely meets city guidelines. They also added a requirement that the developer work with local businesses to find a solution to the parking demand.
Solhem representatives on Monday defended the 124-unit proposed apartment building, which would have 222 parking spaces, most of them below ground.
"I'm hoping that the loss of part of a surface parking lot is not the death of such an outstanding comedy club," said Planning Commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier. "I hope it's larger than that."
The project would eliminate the 120-stall parking lot but leave another one with 160 stalls that is largely accessible for public parking at night.
Other potential options involve expanding the hours of a nearby 550-stall private ramp that now closes after 9 p.m. and on weekends or installing meters on a nearby street to increase turnover.
Club owner Louis Lee said after the hearing that if he has to leave that property, he would look for another one with better parking. If the project is approved, he said, he would be more open to relocation suggestions.
"I will start to listen to all kinds of offers — let people call," Lee said.