Auburn Gresham Project Investment announces progress for South/West development

The real estate projects have so far been the subject of design reviews and pledges as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West program. On Wednesday, promises began to turn into construction.

City officials and developers were expected to break ground Wednesday on $43 million in improvements to a stretch of Auburn Gresham on 79th.th and blocked roads. It’s the first of dozens of events tied to the program to start mixing affordable housing with commercial space.

Groundbreakings for others are expected at an estimated rate of one a month for the rest of the year, said Maurice Cox, the city’s planning and development commissioner. Others are expected to begin construction soon in Englewood and Austin.

Developers were selected for the three neighboring sites in March 2021. “Market momentum has exceeded my expectations,” commented Cox. He said developers working with tax credits and city incentives have hedged against inflation despite rising construction costs.

This progress, he said, shows the city has a good stake in encouraging development in a busy but neglected commercial corridor. “I think we basically had to dispel the myth that you can’t have profitable development on the South and West sides. It’s been quite the opposite,” Cox said.

Maurice Cox, Chicago Commissioner of Planning and Development

Working with community groups, the city used a competitive process to select developers for the investment south/west sites. The Planning Department selected proposals for the sites, which often included city-owned land, after judging factors such as design quality, financing and community needs. Officials prioritized redeveloping the corner property in hopes that other investors would look at nearby parcels.

“We continue to see interest in secondary sites along these corridors,” Cox said.

The Auburn Gresham project is a venture of Evergreen Real Estate Group and Imagine Real Estate Group, working with architectural firms Ross Barney and Nia. It calls for a 28-unit apartment building at 838 W. 79thth and 30 new apartments at 757 W. 79thth. The buildings will include a KLEO Community Family Life Center, a supper club and AYO Foods, which sells West African fare. Sites are currently vacant.

The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2024. Officials said apartment rents will start at $800 per month.

The deal was made possible by the city’s land donation, $18 million in tax-increment financing paid for by property taxes and $18 million in low-income housing tax credits.

Cox said that after criticism from nearby residents, the developers revised their plans to include two smaller buildings rather than one large one. He said that it is suitable for small building areas.

He said the developers also listened to the community when deciding what kind of operations to bring to the ground-floor commercial space.

Cox said the next Invest South/West groundbreaking expected in September will be at 6204 S. Green St. in Englewood, where developers want to renovate a landmark former firehouse, turning it into a commercial kitchen with public meeting space.

The Austin project, due to begin construction in October, is located at 5200-24 W. Chicago Ave. The Heartland Housing and Oak Park Regional Housing Center plans 78 apartments, with most rents tied to income levels under the city’s affordable housing regulations. It calls for converting the former Laramie State Bank into a bank branch with a blues museum.

A separate project in Englewood at 914 W. 63rdrd St., also should break ground late this year, Cox said. DL3 Realty Advisors is building 61 apartments at its 63 Englewood Squarerd and Halstead, a plaza where Whole Foods has announced plans to close. Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3, said he is looking for another grocer to open in the space.

By offering the apartments, Walker is “trying to build the roofs that any grocery store needs to be profitable,” Cox said.

Communities where Invest South/West projects have been approved but have yet to begin are North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, South Shore, Bronzeville, New City and South Chicago.

The North Lawndale site, 4300 W. Roosevelt Road, involves a $38 million redevelopment of 21 acres used for illegal dumping in the Silver Shovel aldermanic scandal of the 1990s.

Cox said the city will soon advertise for a developer’s interest in the property on Michigan Avenue in Roseland.

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757 W. 79th St.

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