Stalled by COVID-19, 10 South, West Side revitalization projects get ‘We Rise Together’ grants
In the first wave of capital grants issued by the Chicago Community Trust’s year-old “We Rise Together” initiative, 10 real estate development projects are getting $7.4 million to spark revitalization in eight disinvested South and West side communities.
A vacant building in Washington Heights will become Cafe Du Bois, a business hub featuring an employee-owned coffee shop and laundromat and space for community events and co-working.
Another in Greater Grand Crossing will become headquarters for ChiFresh Kitchen, a worker-owned catering and food service cooperative that will offer cold storage space to community organizations for food insecurity programs.
At a third, in South Shore, Inner City Entertainment will develop a seven-screen, dine-in cinema, with a Creole-themed restaurant, bowling alley and community event space.
They are among 10 real estate development projects through which organizers hope to spark revitalization in eight disinvested South and West side communities — recipients of a first wave of capital grants from the Chicago Community Trust’s “We Rise Together” initiative.
The three-pronged “We Rise Together,” thus far raising $39 million from 27 prominent Chicago corporate and philanthropic entities, was launched a year ago to support inclusive employment, Black- and Latinx-owned business growth and transformational neighborhood investment — the type represented in the 10 projects snagging $7.4 million.
“We’ve seen firsthand the incredible work of the nonprofit organizations receiving grants in this cycle,” Paul Lambert, president of Bank of America Chicago, said of the diverse initiatives.
“We look forward to witnessing the impact these grants will have on the communities in which they are deployed.
His bank, along with Amazon, are two of the most recent corporations to join the private sector effort to spur economic recovery in communities of color hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 10 projects represent $70 million in real estate developments launched as job creators and economic stimulators, before being slowed or stalled by the COVID-19 Recession.
“As we’re all painfully aware, our historically disinvested communities have borne the brunt of this crisis,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
“Catalytic investments like this one gives us the resources we need to address this pressing issue, as well as lay the foundation for the creation of stronger and more socioeconomically resilient communities.”
In Avalon Park, Justice of the Pies — owned by acclaimed chef Maya-Camille Broussard, currently featured on Netflix’s “Bake Squad” — will convert a vacant building into a restaurant, production and demonstration kitchen, and workforce development center.
In Gage Park, the nonprofit PODER organization, will build a new headquarters for its immigrant integration and job training center, in an adaptive reuse project.
And a second project in South Shore will convert a vacant building into a health and wellness hub. Operated by Urban Core, it offers a yoga center and other health-related storefront businesses.
We Rise Together director Gloria Castillo notes the 10 projects are sited in Black and Latinx communities that never fully recovered from the Great Recession — before suffering the additional whack from the pandemic.
“These 10 projects communicate that our city and region are coming back with a focus on equitable investments. We can’t afford to leave two-thirds of our community behind if we expect to live in a thriving, vibrant region,” she said.
The Trust has focused a huge portion of its programming around the theme of alleviating the racial wealth gap between white, Black and Latinx households.
Chicago entities backing the initiative range from major philanthropies like Driehaus Foundation, Field Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to major corporations, like Jewel-Osco, Loop Capital Markets and Mars Wrigley Foundation.
Two projects in South Lawndale include reclamation of the Chicago Public Library’s onetime Marshall Square Branch — vacant since 2009.
Latinos Progresando is converting the branch into a community hub to include a federally qualified health center run by Esperanza Health Centers, an after-school program run by Lincoln Park Zoo, and job training, business development and legal services.
“As a library, this building was such a fixture of neighborhood life, and we’re so excited to be able to return it to the community in this reimagined way,” said the nonprofit’s founder and CEO, Luis Gutierrez [not the former congressman].
“Instead of a vacancy on our main commercial corridor, the center will be a hub of activity, supporting people in realizing their full potential.”
In the same community, the Xquina Incubator and Café will reclaim vacant commercial retail space, installing a business incubator and co-working space, cafe and shared commercial kitchen.
In North Lawndale, the North Lawndale Employment Network — known for its innovative “Sweet Beginnings” program creating transitional jobs for the formerly incarcerated through bee-keeping — will build out its newly opened campus. Reclaiming the former Community Bank of Lawndale, the campus combines four locations into a community hub.
In the final project, in west suburban Maywood, a commercial space within an affordable housing complex will become a grocery store, serving what is currently a food desert.
“We are glad we could support the grant recipients in advancing their missions to unlock economic opportunity, meet pressing nutritional needs, address health disparities, and foster entrepreneurship,” said Amazon’s senior manager of external affairs, Sarah Glavin.
All 10 projects, including those of for-profit entities, are sponsored by nonprofits. To ensure they remain community assets, any sale of the projects is prohibited for five years, said the Trust, with We Rise Together hoping they become physical anchors from which to fan out additional neighborhood investments.
Editor’s note: The Chicago Community Trust has provided a grant to the Sun-Times to fund the work of two reporters who cover the environment and public health, and social justice and income inequality.