Auburn Gresham project heralds progress for Invest South/West development

Real estate projects envisioned as part of Mayor Laurie Lightfoot’s Invest South/West program have so far been a matter of design reviews and promises. On Wednesday, promises begin to turn into construction.

City officials and developers were expected to break ground Wednesday on a $43 million improvement to a stretch of Auburn Gresham at 79th and Halsted Streets. The mix of affordable housing and retail space is the first of a dozen developments tied to the program to get you started.

Ground breaking for others is expected at an estimated rate of one per month by the end of the year, said Maurice Cox, the city’s planning and development commissioner. Others expected to begin construction soon are in Englewood and Austin.

Developers were selected for the three neighborhood sites in March 2021. “The speed to market has exceeded my expectations,” noted Cox. He said developers working with tax credits and city incentives have secured financing despite inflation, which is driving up construction costs.

The progress, he said, shows the city has made a good bet to encourage development along busy but neglected commercial corridors. “I think we basically had to dispel the myth that you can’t do profitable development on the south side and the west side. It was the exact opposite,” Cox said.

Maurice Cox, Chicago Planning and Development Commissioner

Working with community groups, the city identified developers for the Invest South/West sites using a competitive process. The planning department selected proposals for the sites, which often included city-owned land, after weighing factors such as design quality, funding and community needs. Officials have prioritized redevelopment of corner properties, hoping other investors will look at nearby lots.

“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 architecture firms Ross Barney and Nia. Requests 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 dishes. The sites are currently vacant.

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

The deal was made possible by a city land donation, $18 million in tax increment payments 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 plan to include two smaller buildings rather than one larger one. He said smaller buildings were considered more appropriate for the area.

He said the developers also listened to the community when deciding the type of operations to bring into the ground-floor retail space.

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

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

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

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

Other communities with Invest South/West projects approved but yet to launch include North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, South Shore, Bronzeville, New City and South Chicago.

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

Cox said the city will soon announce interest from developers for properties along Michigan Avenue in Roseland.

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Rendering of an apartment building planned for 757 W. 79th St.

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