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Lightfoot vows changes in targeted ‘high-priority commercial corridors’ will be ‘transformative — not transactional’

The mayor said the corridors will be identified in the coming weeks. Her staff — working with community groups — has said they will be “prime corridors for development due to available retail, a concentration of existing businesses, vehicular traffic, high public transit ridership, commercial zoning and existing business licenses.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets a resident at Julian High School.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown in June at Julian High School on the Far South Side, pledged Thursday to bring big changes to some long-neglected parts of the city.
Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrapped up a listening tour of Chicago neighborhoods by promising “transformative” investments in long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods.

She reiterated that promise earlier this week 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.

Now, Lightfoot is putting some more meat on the bone — by promising to launch her “Marshall Plan” by investing heavily over the next two years in, what she called “high-priority commercial corridors.”

The mayor didn’t disclose the corridors in her speech at the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Signature Breakfast. That will happen in the coming weeks, she said.

But the commercial strips already have been identified by her staff — working hand-in-glove with community groups — as “prime corridors for development due to available retail, a concentration of existing businesses, vehicular traffic, high public transit ridership, commercial zoning and existing business licenses.”

Lightfoot on Thursday said “transformative — not transactional, but transformative — public investment will be made to schools, streetscape, parks, libraries and other public infrastructure.”

“We will make these investments in the commercial corridors. But, we will...make sure that we are also investing in supporting the surrounding communties so the investments that we make really have the kind of transformative change that we need to bring to neighborhoods that have not seen city investments in way too long,” she said.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent much of his second term trying to shed his “Mayor 1 percent” label and rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Emanuel hired a $185,004-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer.

He also proposed: a series of incentive programs aimed at boosting minority contracting and employment; a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area; and a Robin Hood plan to let downtown developers build bigger and taller projects — as long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.

He also used public buildings — like the new fleet maintenance facility and City Colleges headquarters in Englewood and the controversial new police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park — as catalysts for economic development.

Still, vanquished Democratic gubernatorial challenger Chris Kennedy accused the mayor of being part of a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents of Chicago.

On Thursday, Lightfoot never mentioned her predecessor by name. But she made it clear that Emanuel’s best efforts to rebuild South and West Side neighborhoods were too little, too late.

“Chicago stands as one of the world’s largest business centers. But, we are simultaneously seeing a population exodus from our city. … Chicago’s Loop is experiencing a building boom. But at the same time, our city is among one of the nation’s most segregated, with neighborhoods suffering from decades of disinvestment. And make no mistake. Those neighborhoods are disproportionately neighborhoods of color,” she said.

“It’s time to write a new narrative — one where truly a rising tide of inclusive economic growth can lift all boats. ... Breaking the system of investing here and not there, hearing the voices of a few, but not listening to all. Providing opportunity to some, but not to everyone. We have to break this cycle — and we will.”

Lightfoot said her ultimate goal is to increase Chicago’s shrinking population and raise “real household income.”

“To do that, we have to close the capital gap between Chicago’s neighborhoods,” the mayor said. She pointed to a report by the Urban Institute that showed that North Side neighborhoods receive five times as much total investment as neighborhoods on the city’s South, West and Southwest Sides.

“The issue here isn’t a lack of government funding. It’s a lack of multiplying public investment with private investment. That is something that we will change,” she said.