Back of the Yards project adapts historic buildings for housing, health center, coffee roaster

United Yards, at 47th and Ashland, plans to offer 100 units of affordable housing, an entrepreneur hub and 60,000 square feet of retail and community space.

SHARE Back of the Yards project adapts historic buildings for housing, health center, coffee roaster
A rendering of upcoming developments at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

A rendering of upcoming projects at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The historic Goldblatt’s building is one of the properties in the South Side neighborhood being redeveloped.

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Growing up in Back of the Yards, Jesse Iñiguez remembers the shops at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue as the place his family went for everything.

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“That’s where all the action was,” said Iñiguez, 41. 

From clothes and electronics to even the cardboard boxes he used for school diorama projects, it was all right there.

Since then, its bustle has faded to vacant lots and empty storefronts. But a long-awaited transformation through the city’s Invest South/West program is finally getting underway, promising to bring affordable housing, a health center and retail options — including a coffee roaster helmed by Iñiguez.

The project, called United Yards, combines two proposals for a site targeted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s signature plan to bring investment to underserved communities. 

A rendering the United Yards project, an Invest South/West initiative at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue in Back of the Yards.

A rendering the United Yards project, an Invest South/West initiative at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue in Back of the Yards.

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The first proposal, from Celadon Partners and the Blackwood Group, focused on housing. The second, from Iñiguez’s group, Back of the Yards Works, focused on locally owned retail.

Stores owned and staffed by neighborhood residents and for neighborhood residents are vital to the longevity of the project, Iñiguez said.

“The secret sauce is that when people show up, they’re going to see people that they know,” he said.

The first phase of the project — a $60 million investment with about a third of those funds coming from the city — got started Tuesday, with a groundbreaking ceremony at one of the housing components. There also were speeches by public officials, including Lightfoot, inside the upcoming retail space.

“Every single time we’re in one of these Invest South/West communities, I hear ‘This used to be, but now is...’” the mayor said.

“It will now be something that flourishes,” she added. “Yes, we too, in every neighborhood, deserve the support and investment that’s been missing for far too long.”

Lightfoot called the investment the first of its kind in decades and also touted a city streetscaping project in the neighborhood.

The space, on the ground floor of the historic Goldblatt’s building at 4700 S. Ashland Ave., is where Iñiguez and his partners — a bakery, apparel shop and barber shop — will be located. Developers anticipate they will open late this year.

The stores will be in a 9,000-square-foot space facing 47th Street — space they will assume ownership of after a few years, according to Celadon Partners, the current owners. 

The 15,000-square-foot health center, run by Friend Health, will be on the Ashland-facing side of the ground floor.

Expected to open after that are the housing developments, including a new 45-unit apartment building at 1515 W. 47th St. with an incubator space on the ground floor. There also will be two new, modular three-flats in the 1600 block of West 47th Street.

The three-flats will be affordable for those earning up to 60% of the area median income and will be available later this year. The apartment building is expected to open next year.

The group will also build a community space on a vacant lot at 47th and Marshfield Avenue, which is expected to open in 2024. Developers hope it will house a local brewery.

The next phase of the development involves adapting 4701 S. Ashland Ave., known as the Rainbow building, into housing for seniors. That project is expected to be completed around 2025 or 2026. 

Total expected cost for the two phases is about $95 million, with a final tally of 100 units of affordable housing and 60,000 square feet of retail and community space.

“The people there are making the neighborhood vibrant with obsolete buildings and facilities,” said Scott Henry of Celadon Partners. “So our vision was to see what could the community do” with updated structures.

Henry said the group’s original interest in the area was sparked by the development of a senior living facility in the Goldblatt’s building and that when the Invest South/West plan is complete, they’ll keep expanding in the neighborhood. 

“It’s a historic community with a great fabric and a lot of room for expansion,” Henry said. “And our intention is to carry that expansion on.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

A rendering of the updated Rainbow building at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue, part of the United Yards project.

A rendering of the updated Rainbow building at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue, where the United Yards project, an Invest South/West initiative, is set to begin reviving the historic commercial corridor.

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