Clouted pastor opening training center at closed Woodlawn Walgreens

The renovated interior of the former Walgreens at 6330 S. King Drive in Woodlawn, which will open Wednesday, as the Project H.O.P.E. Leadership and Economic Development Center offers co-working space, skilled trades training, and youth mentoring and life skills programs. | Provided photo

Politically connected South Side pastor Corey Brooks this week opens a new training center in a beleaguered area of rising Woodlawn, which will be housed in a shuttered Walgreens at 63rd and King Drive that has been donated to his nonprofit.

It’s the second effort by the controversial pastor to turn a vacant property into a positive for a neighborhood that faces a brighter future under shadow of the coming Obama Presidential Library, but now grapples with high unemployment and crime.

Brooks’ Project H.O.O.D. will cut the ribbon on its new Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center on Wednesday, expected to offer co-working space rentals, skilled trades training, youth mentoring, culinary programs and a youth-run cafe.

It’s not to be confused with the $15 million community center Brooks proposed when perching atop the Super Motel at 6625 S. King Dr. in 2011. He had stayed there 94 days, descending only after more than $450,000 in donations poured in, including from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, to buy it and tear it down.

The Walgreens at 6330 S. King Dr. in Woodlawn, closed by the chain in August to community protest, was donated to Pastor Corey Brooks’ nonprofit, Project H.O.P.E. It has been renovated into a Leadership and Economic Development Center offering co-working space, skilled trades training, and youth mentoring and life skills programs. | Provided photo

This time, Walgreens has donated the 25,000-square-feet store, which the chain closed in August amid community protest. Other identified donors include construction trades firms, a car dealership and Republican politician Jim Oberweis’ ice cream firm.

“The amount of untapped potential in this community is extraordinary, and that is what we will see bloom with this new center,” said Brooks, whose endorsement of Gov. Bruce Rauner during the 2014 gubernatorial race drew black community backlash, and later, claims that it led to death threats and an $8,000 church burglary.

He’ll be joined Wednesday by Rauner, who gave Brooks a post-election $31,426-a-year appointment with the Illinois Tollway board, good through May 2019.

Before his effort that drew the moniker of “rooftop pastor,” Brooks’ New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Dr., had led the successful campaign to shut down the Super Motel, a hub of drugs and prostitution. He subsequently embarked on a cross-country walk to try to raise the $15 million price tag of replacing it with a community center, but his 3,000-mile journey from New York to Los Angeles raised only $500,000.

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