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When development comes, Commercial Ave. wants to be ready

Caption: One of the murals along the Commercial Avenue business district in South Chicago. | Sue Ontiveros Photo

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Sorry, South Chicago, it doesn’t look like Mariano’s and its great store amenities are coming there anytime soon. They may never arrive.

The original agreement was that the supermarket would build along the lake near 87th when and if other business tenants signed up; no one else has. I can’t blame Mariano’s for not going it alone. The area needs streets, sewers, lighting, etc., and infrastructure ain’t cheap.

I was discouraged, too, for my old neighborhood when I heard that U.S. Steel and developer McCaffery Interests had parted ways, which sounds like a significant roadblock to anything happening soon where the former South Works steel mill once stood.

But, turns out they’re not sitting around feeling sorry for themselves in South Chicago. They’ve got work to do!

The people who’ve stuck with my old neighborhood may be a tad disappointed as well, but they’re focusing instead on what is within their power to improve, according to Dan Lira, executive director of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce.

OPINION

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They’re moving forward with the plan the community has been putting together for more than a year to touch up the neighborhood’s business district – Commercial Avenue.

Commercial Avenue is one of the city’s oldest business hubs. Some businesses have been situated along the strip – which runs from South Chicago Avenue to 83rd, although the majority is between there and 87th – since the late 1800s. If you grew up in South Chicago or one of the neighboring communities – Bush, Vet’s Park, Calumet Heights or South Deering – you went “uptown” to Commercial to buy the latest clothes, visit your doctor or do banking.

But with age comes wear and tear. The district could stand to be gussied up some, and the community knows it. So the chamber has been working in partnership with the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago to revitalize the district.

The chamber’s executive board, other business leaders, folks from community organizations and interested residents have been getting together almost weekly to figure out how they want to improve Commercial Avenue.

They know they already have a pretty good thing. There are some 60 businesses: restaurants, retail, hair stylists and florists as well as social service agencies. Grocery stores that line the street offer African, Caribbean and Latino fare as well as traditional supermarket selections. Drive through and you’ll see the south end is particularly strong, with a pocket of vacancies closer to 87th. Being situated in a community where residents are accustomed to walking to take care of chores means during standard business hours there’s a steady stream of foot traffic along Commercial.

As far as the revitalization, the first phase will include some general cleanup in the business district as well as facade improvements. But there’s been a lot of discussion about the types of businesses Commercial Avenue would like to attract.

Because Commercial Avenue already has a good many mom-and-pop-type stores, Lira says they’re looking at similar businesses in other neighborhoods that might be looking to expand. The busy shopping district of Pilsen is more what they’re looking to achieve rather than a string of big box stores.

With that extension of South Lake Shore Drive and the spectacular view from those 600 open acres along the lake, eventually someone’s going to be smart enough to see the commercial opportunities that stretch holds. And the people of South Chicago are making sure that they and Commercial Avenue will be ready for that.

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

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