Building Up

Nathan Worcester

On a weekday afternoon in Bronzeville, the intersection of 47th Street and Cottage Grove is busy. Pedestrians flow along and mostly obey the red “Don’t Walk” sign. Some stop to chat with friends, while others hustle through the early autumn chill. In the northwest corner, cars inch through the McDonald’s drive-through line. On the eastern side of the street, people stream in and out of Save-a-Lot, O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, and the Urban Partnership Bank. But on the southwest corner there is an empty lot of well-packed dirt.

“Is it really becoming an apartment building?” asked Darnell while waiting for the bus with his girlfriend. “I just knew the liquor store was closed. There weren’t any posters up saying what would come in.”

The city bulldozed Pappy’s Liquors in early October. According to Bernita Johnson-Gabriel of Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC), the city purchased the parcel through a negotiated sale. “The owner of the property knew that we were marketing the property and was okay with it. Early on in the six year period, they had been negotiating with the developer.” As for Pappy’s, “like in any other community, the liquor store had been problematic.” But the owner of the liquor store didn’t own the space. “It wasn’t really his decision or option because he was just a tenant.”

The now-empty parcel is the last needed for the completion of a six-year project led by the non-profit QCDC and the neighborhood’s former alderman, Toni Preckwinkle. The city will sell the site to Mahogany Chicago 47 L.L.C., a Columbus, Ohio-based partnership between developers Skilken and Adam Troy. Then Mahogany will own all the land they need, and construction can begin on a mixed-use, mixed-income development, “The Shops and Lofts at 47.”

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Skilken’s website advertises “The Shops and Lofts at 47” as an example of the firm’s ability to “capture opportunity in underserved markets.” Per their plans, retail space at the site will total 55,000 square feet, including a 40,000 square foot anchor store and seven or eight small shops. According to Skilken President Frank Petruziello, “we saw that 47th and Cottage was the most high-profile intersection from a retail standpoint in the 4th Ward. That was consistent with then-alderman Preckwinkle’s vision for the community.”

The residential portion of the development was originally slated to contain condominiums. However, since the collapse of the housing market, the plans now call for apartments. In a phone interview, Petruziello estimated that roughly 20% of the residential units would be offered at market rate, while the remainder would be rented at varying levels of subsidized rates.

The development is just one of several occurring in the Quad Communities (North Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas, and Grand Boulevard), many of which are being drawn in by the QCDC or similar organizations. “There will also be a development coming to 44th and Cottage Grove”, said Johnson-Gabriel, adding that a dialysis center will likely arrive at 43rd and Cottage in the summer of 2012. The city is pushing a lot of the development in the area, as most such projects receive some financial support from the city, although the degree varies on a case-by-case basis.

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Back at 47th and Cottage, residents have their own thoughts on development. Many people say that the neighborhood needs an inexpensive big box store. Walmart is a popular choice. “We’ve got a bunch of Targets, and a lot of Save-a-Lots, too,” said Bridgest, who was eating with some friends at McDonald’s. At Save-a-Lot, Seerena, who was grocery shopping with her three children, agreed that the community needs more affordable options for buying groceries.

“The street does not lend itself to a large big box, but probably some midsized retail would be fine,” said QCDC’s Johnson-Gabriel. She guessed that a big box store could be sustained on the State Street corridor near 39th Street.

Beautification is also a popular desire. “Beautify the park, businesses, surrounding areas,” said Bridgest. Nicole, another shopper at the Save-a-Lot, wanted some sort of community youth center. “It’s time for change because the area is getting out of control,” she said.

But Johnson-Gabriel disagrees: “All the ingredients for creating a safe, healthy, and vibrant community are here.” She’s not alone in taking this view. “It’s pretty peaceful most of the time,” said Bridgest at McDonald’s. “Everybody knows everybody.” Not long after, he paused to greet someone who had just walked in.

Nonetheless, some residents seem to think it’s not the right time for a big new development, including Grace, an on-and-off resident of Chicago for over fifty years. When she learned that the corner of 47th and Cottage would be getting a mixed income development, she scoffed, “They need to put in a mini-police station.”

Waiting for the bus to take him to Howard Area Alternative High, Will wasn’t happy about the liquor store closure. “I’m mad as hell!” he laughed. After taking a more serious outlook, however, Will thought the mixed-income development could be good: “as long as they have security, it’d bring more jobs.”