For the second time in three years, the Community Development Commission agreed Tuesday to acquire the South Shore site of Chicago’s only shuttered Dominick’s that has yet to find a replacement grocer and put the property out to bid.
The commission and the City Council took a similar vote in 2014 only to have the Department of Planning and Development come up empty when it issued a request-for-qualifications and no viable buyers emerged.
Property owner Jeffrey Plaza Investment LLC subsequently started working with City Hall and “presenting possible tenants.” That prompted the city to hold off on acquiring the nine-acre, 113,000-square-foot site at 2101 E. 71st St.
In June 2015, the owner put the shopping center up for sale for $19.5 million. Three months ago, Jeffrey Plaza LLC sub-divided the site to make way for a fitness club.
On Tuesday, the commission voted to start the process all over again in hopes of filling the desperate need for a grocery store in South Shore.
“We have not seen the type of progress that needs to occur,” said Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman.
For years, local Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has pressured Mayor Rahm Emanuel to summon the CEOs of major grocery chains to a meeting and demand that somebody — anybody — fill the gaping hole that Dominick’s left behind in 2013.
“It’s very difficult for the mayor to say he’s doing enough when he’s announcing grocery stores all over everywhere except in the place that needs it the most,” Hairston said in 2014.
“He knows people. He could do more. … It says that he doesn’t care. I want him to use the power that he has as mayor … to spur economic development in South Shore, just as he’s done in the South Loop.”
On Tuesday, Hairston was more tempered in her remarks, welcoming the decision and predicting different results this time around.
“You have the community working together in a better way. … You’ve got everybody working toward the same goal,” Hairston said. The owner “asked for some more time and we said OK. The community was supportive of that. The community has since changed its mind and wants to see things move. We’re taking a more aggressive approach.”
Since Dominick’s closed in 2013, Hairston said local residents, many of whom don’t own cars, have been forced to travel more than a mile to do their grocery shopping.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, commission Vice-Chair Shirley Newsome said she can “understand why” the South Shore site has remained stubbornly vacant while replacements have been found for every other shuttered Dominick’s store in Chicago.
“It is very lacking in a number of areas. It is not well-maintained. It is a haven for criminal activity. There is a lot that goes on on that particular site that I see. I’m there frequently. There is not the kind of interest or investment on the part of the owner that needs to occur,” Newsome said.
Susan Campbell is a South Shore resident who serves as director of planning and development for Cook County. She called the Jeffrey Plaza property pivotal to the ongoing effort to revitalize a 71st Street corridor with one million square feet of commercial space, 52 percent of it vacant.
“The continued growth of vacant storefronts, coupled with absentee property owners, has yielded a challenging and now a dangerous environment. An increase in crime is now being felt in nearby surrounding residential areas in the form of property theft, carjackings, assaults with weapons and a serious drug trade,” Campbell told the commission.
If the city doesn’t acquire the property and find a buyer, “All of the efforts to try and bring about positive change on this street will be in vain,” she said.