Year in Review 2016: Pivotal Moments in Chicago for Community and Business
For the past two years, one of the most anticipated projects that had universities competing for the opportunity to house President Barack Obama’s library was finally decided in July. After a long process that included community meetings on both the West Side and South Side with the hope of urban renewal at its doorstep, the Obama Foundation officially announced Jackson Park as the winning location for the Obama Presidential Center.
To many Jackson Park and Woodlawn residents, it felt like a wonderful new inheritance until you begin to worry about the estate taxes. In this case, residents were thrilled that our first African-American president and the first lady selected the beautiful location just steps from the lakefront. The downside is that the glimmer of hope that Washington Park and Grand Crossing residents had faded as quickly as the 2016 Olympics bid.
As we move into 2017 with Massachusetts native and newly appointed Obama Foundation CEO David Simas, community benefit meetings must be discussed. As the Obamas leave the White House in January, a great campus of building out the new center will impact its neighbors. The question remains to what costs and to what extent?
Lucas Museum Fall-out With Friends of the Park
Chicagoan and businesswoman Mellody Hobson and her husband, film tycoon and producer George Lucas, had their sights set on building the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on the lakefront. The power couple had begun the process to work with the city of Chicago on the prime location, south of Soldier Field, and where the old McCormick Place sits.
For only $10, Mayor Emanuel and the City Council passed approval to sell this valuable piece of land to build the $1.17 billion complex.
But no one expected a small group, Friends of the Park,would file a lawsuit to “plea the benefit of the public, but will impair public interest in the land and benefit the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.” According to U.S. District Judge John Darrah, the claim stated a violation of the public-trust doctrine — stopping any future plans and dissipating any chances for Chicago to secure a place in “Star Wars” history.
To the Friends of the Park, saving the land on which the huge, black metal and steel structure had stood for almost 50 years was important versus replacing it with a museum that would potentially draw millions of tourists, secure thousands of jobs and bringing economic stimulation to a struggling city budget.
After back-and-forth wrangling with the non-profit group, and the city, the Lucas Foundation released an official statement, moving its consideration elsewhere.
Community business and faith leaders were enthusiastic about what the museum could bring to Chicago, but some of the mayor’s critics felt this was just another way of selling off the city to big businesses.
As president of Ariel Investments, Mellody Hobson grew up in Chicago with humble beginnings. Her and her husband’s donations to After School Matters exceed over $30 million, along with contributions to numerous organizations benefiting Chicago youth. This is a loss that would be felt by surrounding communities for a very long time.
The Revitalization of Englewood
The opening of the Englewood Square on 63rd and Halsted included Whole Foods, Oakwood Health Center and Starbucks, among other businesses. The $15 million retail complex was mainly headed up by Chicago businessman and managing partner of DL3, Leon Walker. Between the firm’s investment, crowdfunding and TIF funds, it has become a true testament of rebuilding a community, which at one point was one of the strongest retail corridors in the city from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Whole Foods has close to 40 independently owned vendors featuring their products on its shelves.
The retail complex is a great addition to the area, for which neighbors include the Kennedy-King College campus.
Heightened crime and drugs tore throughout the neighborhoods that border Back of the Yards, Auburn Gresham and Marquette Park. But with the diligence of small businesses and community leaders, Englewood is on the road to an upward climb.
Bronzeville Business Blossoms
The South Side continued to strive forward as the Mariano’s in Bronzeville finally opened its doors in October. The project started under the direction of then-Roundy’s CEO Bob Mariano, but soon was folded into the portfolio of the Kroger grocery store chain when Mariano’s sold it for $800 million in November 2015.
One of the last Black-owned contractors were part of the build-out of the 74,817 square-foot building, which was sold immediately after its opening for $34 million to a New York real estate firm.
As black and white photos of the community’s rich history outline the perimeter of the building, a diverse mix of residents enjoy the amenities of traveling a short distance in what was considered a food desert for years.
Further up the street, the business district of 47th St. and King Drive experienced the closure of Jokes and Notes. After nearly 10 years of hosting nightlife events and a bevy of comedy talent, owner Mary Lindsey closed her doors over the summer.
On the same side of the street, H-Dogs closed their doors as well. Without much delay, both spaces were replaced by nightclub Renaissance Bronzeville, which opened at the beginning of December in the Jokes and Notes space.
Later in January, Vinny’s Steakhouse will open to the public. The casual dining location replaces H-Dogs on the corner at one of Bronzeville’s busiest intersections.
In 2016, one of Chicago’s banking institutions made changes that would allow them to survive in our challenging economy. Founded in 1934, Illinois Service Federal has served the Bronzeville community since the beginning of the Great Migration.
In need of $7 million to keep its doors open, the $110 asset lender sought outside assistance to prevent shutting down and transferring their clients’ deposits and loans to another banking institution. The Groupe Nduom of Ghana, a conglomerate that operates businesses in West Africa, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, invested into ISFS.
The new owners — brothers N. Kweku Nduom and P.W. Chiefy Nduom, manage the family’s investment and look forward to carrying on the legacy of providing a secure credit foundation to the Black community it serves.
As the vitality of economic growth continues to build on the South Side and along the lakefront, we hope the same energy and dedication is applied to the West Side communities. The lack of high-end and quality retail investments forces residents to circulate their dollars in neighboring Oak Park, Berwyn or as far as Oak Brook.