Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has spent the last five years pressuring Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lean on CEOs of major grocery chains and demand that somebody — anybody — fill the gaping hole that Dominick’s left behind in 2013.
On Friday, the squeaky wheel finally got oiled in a way that will bring desperately-needed shopping choices to South Shore.
Shop & Save has signed a letter of intent to open a new grocery store in Jeffery Plaza, 2101 E. 71st St., in up to 40,000 of the 60,000 vacant square feet that Dominick’s left behind.
A tax-increment-financing (TIF) subsidy “north of $10 million,” as Emanuel put it, is expected but not yet finalized.
“I ran into residents at many of my Mariano meetings, Target town halls, Walmart walk-ins all saying they were from South Shore and had to drive somewhere else. They’re now gonna have a grocery store that is gonna be a lot closer to where they live. And it fulfills our pledge to have every one of those [Dominick’s] stores occupied by another grocery store,” Emanuel said.
The mayor said he and Hairston and South Shore residents were “like a dog with a bone trying to get it done,” but the South Shore replacement took a lot longer than he anticipated.
“Every neighborhood is different. Every new grocer is different. Some stores, Jewel just walked in. Mariano’s or Whole Foods, because of a whole host of issues, are different,” the mayor said Friday.
“I have all the impatience of all the residents who have to drive miles away to find grocery stores. The fact of the matter, though, is something that people wanted to have happen since 2014, we’re finally getting done . . . I would have preferred it had been done years ago as did the residents as Leslie did.”
Hairston said she is “cautiously optimistic.” But it won’t be a done deal until the letter-of-intent is turned into a signed contract.
“They intend to negotiate the terms. And the devil is in the details,” the alderman said.
“We’ve been close before. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”
If the deal gets done, Hairston said it’ll be “huge” for South Shore residents.
“We have been a food desert since the Dominick’s closed. The most frequently asked question is always, `When are we getting a grocery store?’ They had to take buses. They had to rely on family and friends,” the alderman said.
The long-awaited announcement comes nine months after the Community Development Commission agreed to acquire the South Shore site and put the property out to bid for the second time in three years.
The CDC and the City Council took a similar vote in 2014 only to have the Department of Planning and Development come up empty when it issued a request-for-qualifications and no viable buyers emerged.
Prior to the second acquisition vote, CDC Vice-Chair Shirley Newsome said she could “understand why” the South Shore site has remained stubbornly vacant while replacements have been found for every other shuttered Dominick’s store in Chicago.
“It is very lacking in a number of areas. It is not well-maintained. It is a haven for criminal activity . . . There is not the kind of interest or investment on the part of the owner that needs to occur,” Newsome said.
South Shore resident Susan Campbell, director of planning and development for Cook County, called the property pivotal to revitalizing a 71st Street corridor with one million square feet of commercial space, 52 percent of it vacant.
“Otherwise, all of the efforts to try and bring about positive change on this street will be in vain,” Campbell told the CDC.
Over the years, Hairston has accused Emanuel of “announcing grocery stores all over everywhere, except in the place that needs it the most.”
Now, she’s on the verge of getting what she wanted —just in time for the run-up to the 2019 aldermanic election.