New hope for the South Side’s beleaguered Parkway Gardens

Related Midwest, which paid $40 million for the affordable housing complex in 2011, has the expertise and deep pockets to transform the development. And now it looks to have the resolve.

SHARE New hope for the South Side’s beleaguered Parkway Gardens
Parkway Gardens Apartments in the 6400 block of Martin Luther King Drive

Related development is right to cancel its bid to sell Parkway Gardens

Sun-Times file

When the blue-chip downtown megadeveloper Related Midwest bought Parkway Gardens a decade ago, it looked as if the long-beleaguered Woodlawn residential complex finally was headed for a turnaround.

So we were taken aback in April when Related suddenly decided to sell the development. The company had made some improvements to Parkway Gardens, built in the early 1950s, but seemed to be walking away long before the full job was done.

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But we’re now actually encouraged. Related recently announced that it has changed its mind and decided to hold on to Parkway Gardens, an historic affordable housing development on King Drive, south of 63rd Street. We’re hoping that decision opens the door to a real change for the better.

Related, which paid $40 million for Parkway Gardens in 2011, has the expertise, deep pockets and political capital to transform the development.

‘Work to be done’

“We have spoken to federal and local leaders and have decided to suspend the sale of Parkway Gardens,” a Related spokeswoman told us by email. “We will continue to work with partners at (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), the city and the community to ensure residents have quality affordable housing options for years to come.”

Good. Especially since the same developer is receiving millions in city subsidies to build The 78, an upscale 62-acre community on the Chicago River south of Roosevelt Road. If The 78 will be good for Chicago — and Related certainly believes that to be the case, judging by its promotional materials — then the city is definitely owed a solid by the developer. Parkway Gardens, too, could become a stronger asset to its community.

“It looks very bad if they mistreat low-income residents but were given the gift of The 78 project,” Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said.

Taylor has been outspoken about Related’s management of the development. She even arranged for city building inspectors to be sent there in March, which resulted in Related being cited for more than 50 building code violations. Inspectors found malfunctioning elevators, rodent issues and more, and Related has promised to improve conditions.

And bravo to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who weighed in on the issue as well, and turned the tide.

“The mayor spoke with Related to address the alderman’s concerns that included the physical property as well as the need to include wraparound services for the community and its residents,” a mayoral spokeswoman told the Sun-Times by email.

Parkway Gardens residents deserve a better outcome — and so do you. The public helped Related pay $106 million to buy and rehab Parkway Gardens, kicking in $59 million in state-issued tax exempt bonds, $28.8 million in low-income housing tax credits and an additional $10 million in historic rehabilitation tax credits.

“There’s some work to be done, but as long as they are committed, we are committed,” Taylor said.

Difficult but necessary task

Turning around Parkway Gardens is, no doubt, a big and expensive challenge, aggravated by the development’s well-known crime and disinvestment problems. But all those woes were on the table — no surprise at all —when Related bought the property.

So, yes, it’s great to see the developer buck up and get back into the game, even if it did take a shove from an alderman and the mayor’s office.

But that’s okay, for now at least.

The squeakiest wheel gets the grease — and the right to roll as it pleases — in this town. We have seen that play out in favor of wealthier and better connected Chicago neighborhoods almost daily.

Perhaps it is now Parkway Gardens’ turn.

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