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$250 million will bring ‘transformative change’ to 10 South, West side neighborhoods, Lightfoot says

The neighborhoods targeted for the unprecedented infusion are: Auburn Gresham, North Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, Quad Communities, New City, Roseland, South Chicago and South Shore.

Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox (left), Lightfoot and BMO Harris Bank CEO David Casper at a news conference.
Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox (left), Lightfoot and BMO Harris Bank CEO David Casper at a news conference Monday in Austin.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chicago will spend $250 million over the next three years to bring “transformative change” to ten South and West Side neighborhoods “starving for too long,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

“We are bringing the whole of government to these efforts. ... We will be creating targeted workforce programs and transforming our use of public owned land to encourage development,” the mayor told a standing-room-only news conference on Chicago Avenue in Austin.

“This is what a truly cross-sector, comprehensive investment plan for our South and West Side looks like. ... The city is here. The city will stay. We will not be transactional. We will not leave you. We will lead and invite others to follow in our path.”

The 10 neighborhoods targeted for the unprecedented infusion of city capital are: Auburn Gresham, North Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, Quad Communities, New City, Roseland, South Chicago and South Shore.

Factors analyzed in choosing the neighborhoods included: local business activity; retail and institutional anchors; transportation amenities; historic buildings; recent and pending public improvements; potential community partners.

The $250 million, Lightfoot said, is “re-prioritized money already in the pipeline” from: tax-increment-financing; the moribund $100 million Catalyst Fund; the Small Business Improvement Fund; and the share-the-wealth, Neighborhood Opportunity Fund generated by developers paying a fee for permission to build bigger and taller buildings downtown.

Together with $500 million in CTA, Metra and Park District improvements already in the pipeline — and a $10 million sponsorship from BMO Harris Bank — the goal of the program the mayor calls “Invest South/West” is to turn abandoned commercial corridors into thriving inner-city neighborhoods with the amenities needed to attract residents, not lose them.

“While our Central Business District has been thriving, families on our South and West Sides have been leaving. … These are families who aren’t leaving because they want to, but because they feel like they have to. If anyone wanted an indication of a flawed economic plan, that is it.” the mayor said.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley built dozens of neighborhood libraries, police and fire stations and used those projects as catalysts for neighborhood development.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel did the same with the police academy in West Garfield Park and the new fleet maintenance facility in Englewood and by moving the administrative headquarters for City Colleges of Chicago. He also created the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.

Lightfoot was asked how her plan to revive long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods — with strong input from local advisory panels — will be different.

“What you’ve seen in the past is, we’ll put money in and we’ll have one- off projects here. We’ll put some [more] money in and we’ll have another one off-project. We want to have a comprehensive plan that really brings communities together and builds upon the infrastructure that’s already there,” the mayor said.

“Austin and a lot of other neighborhoods across the city have done community, quality-of-life plans, but they’ve been on a shelf because there hasn’t been the resources to bring those projects to life. We want to change that.”

In July, Lightfoot wrapped up a neighborhood listening tour by promising “transformative” investments in the long-neglected South and West sides.

She reiterated that promise after a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Chicago race riots, a “bitter and shameful chapter” that, she claimed, represents not only Chicago’s past, but its present.

On Monday, the mayor finally got around to launching her “Marshall Plan.”

“I have been chomping at the bit for months to be able to stand here in this moment. And I said, with due respect to my friends on the South Side, when we make this announcement, we must come to the West Side,” the mayor said.

Newly appointed Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox championed “20-minute neighborhoods” during his stint in Detroit. He’s bringing that same vision to what he called the “first true effort to improve the historic corridors” of Chicago’s South and West Sides.

“The investments are going to be layered. They’re going to be catalytic. They’re going to be very, very visible,” Cox said.

“The idea is to focus like a laser on the areas that are most walkable and most viable within those communities so that residents ... can see the change to the stores that they shop in, to the services that they need in their neighborhoods, to the train stations to the parks where their children play and all of those arts and cultural institutions that we know are right here and can be lifted up.”