First three INVEST South/West projects chosen to reinvigorate neglected neighborhoods

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Last month Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Department of Planning and Development announced three winning development proposals for the city’s INVEST South/West program. This initiative is Lightfoot’s equitable development strategy by to revitalize ten historic neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides. Created in 2019, the plan seeks to invest $750 million in city funding and tap into the resources of community organizations and corporate and philanthropic funds. The priority neighborhoods for INVEST South/West are Auburn Gresham, Austin, Bronzeville, Greater Englewood, Humboldt Park, New City, North Lawndale, Greater Roseland, South Chicago, and South Shore.

A rendering of Evergreen Imagine to be created near 79th and Halsted.

In fall 2020 the city created a request for proposals for projects in Auburn Gresham, Austin, and Englewood. The winning projects were announced on March 8 of this year. The winning plan for Auburn Gresham is Evergreen Imagine. 23,000 square feet of vacant land near 79th and Halsted streets will be transformed into a nearly $20 million project that will create a 56 affordable housing units with ground floor retail and 35 parking spots. The location is a mile west of the 79th Street Red Line station, accessible via relatively high-frequency #79 bus, and a 1.5 miles north of the Gresham stop on the Metra Rock Island Line, which can be reached via the Halsted bus. The development will complement the planned Healthy Hub adaptive reuse project across from it. The Evergreen Imagine complex will include private garden plots, a playground for residents, and public open space.

The Laramie Bank building as it appeared last November. Photo: John Greenfield

A development dubbed Austin United Alliance will be coming to the Austin neighborhood on the site of the former Laramie Bank building at Chicago and Laramie avenues, plus 20,000 square feet of adjacent empty land. The site is a half-mile north of the Laramie Green Line station. The bank building will be renovated to house a blues museum, a bank branch, a cafe, and a business incubator. The adjacent land will be the site of a mixed-income, multi-story rental building with a green roof, public plaza, social spaces, and outdoor art. The city says the project will create 150 construction jobs and 22 full-time positions.

A rendering of the exterior view of Englewood Connect.

The Englewood community will be the new home of Englewood Connect, a $10.3 million “eco-food hub” that will house culinary-related uses intended to empower and feed local residents. The project, located at 63rd and Halsted, just north of the Halsted Green Line station, is part of the second phase of the Englewood Shopping Center. The landmark Green Street fire station will be adaptively reused as a commercial kitchen, a business incubator to train start-up businesses, and a “community living room” for local events. Vacant land around the area will be repurposed as hoop houses that allow for year-round farming. A large focal point of Englewood Connect will be a public plaza. Later phases are intended to include a flexible market place and an event center.

All in all these are great projects coming to neighborhoods that have been in need of investment for decades. It’s great the Department of Planning and Development ensured community involvement in the selection of the winning proposals. However, I am a bit disappointed the Evergreen Imagine doesn’t include more housing units.

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