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Setting Anchors in Pullman, Roseland

Successful community redevelopment often gets started with a succession of small victories – a few abandoned homes rehabbed here, some vacant storefronts rejuvenated there.

Eke out enough singles and sacrifice bunts, this theory goes, until the neighborhood is considered sufficiently “safe” for the big hitters from the private sector to step up and hit home runs.

Dave Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, is leading the agency's commercial redevelopment efforts in Pullman, anchored by an under construction, 150,000-square-foot Super Walmart.

John McCarron

Then there’s Pullman-Roseland-West Pullman approach on Chicago’s Far South Side.

Sure, there are small victories being won here every day:  historic row houses rehabbed for resale, an organic garden planted, a problem liquor store closed.

But the larger strategy now unfolding is one based on major investments capable of anchoring many more investments to come.

“We’re taking on projects that result in place-based transformations,” explained David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI). Now emerging from under the protective wing of U.S. Bank, which inherited the nonprofit from other banks forced under by the Great Recession, CNI is helping restore life to neighborhoods left for dead after decades of de-industrialization and disinvestment.

Walmart to the rescue
The easternmost anchor is rising just below CNI’s office on the 10th floor of the U.S. Bank building just off I-94 at 111th Street. It’s a Super Walmart that, at 150,000 square feet, will begin turning acres of derelict industrial brownfields into a $350 million mixed-use Pullman Park.

Doig credits Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) with sticking his neck out for Walmart when some factions of organized labor tried to ban its entry to Chicago because the Big W’s non-union stores sell too few American-made goods.

The unions have since bowed to the realities of modern American retailing … but now will benefit from hundreds of skilled-trade construction jobs, not just at the Walmart site, but soon from Phases II and III as Pullman Park’s smaller stores and apartment complexes build out. Nearby, a portion of the vast-but-vacant Ryerson Steel plant is being converted to an indoor soccer/softball rec center.

Built with $110 million from the foundation created by the founders of McDonald's Corp., The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center is drawing rave reviews in West Pullman.

Gordon Walek

“We’ve done $35 million in site prep on Phase I,” Doig told a visitor on a windshield tour of the joint venture between CNI and U.S. Bank. 

The city, using unspent federal funds it won for “Hurricane Ike” flood mitigation, is pushing a wide, truck-friendly, north-south connector road through the development from 103rd to 111th. Both tie into the I-94/Cottage Grove Avenue interchange, so Doig figures his Walmart and surrounding stores will draw not just from the city but from northwest Indiana and the Near South suburbs. All of which will, cha-ching, feed the local tax base and enable, along with additional federal New Markets tax credits, successive stages of redevelopment.


Kroc Center spectacular
Twenty blocks to the west, a very different kind of mega-anchor was set this past summer and it’s already drawing rave reviews from its West Pullman neighbors.  The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, at 1250 W. 119th St., is a spectacular multi-use family recreation and cultural facility. The charitable foundation created by the founders of McDonalds Corp gave $110 million to the Salvation Army for what has to be one of the most elaborate facilities of its kind anywhere.

Elaborate? The building contains several swimming pools and a mini-water park, a massive multi-court/multi-sport gymnasium looped by a balcony jogging track, an equipment-packed fitness room, separate lounges for seniors and teenagers, music and craft rooms, and a recording studio plus a 400-seat auditorium/chapel. Outside on the 32-acre campus are athletic fields for several sports – including an artificial turf baseball field where the White Sox have installed a U.S. Cellular-type scoreboard – and a three-hole pitch-and-putt golf course.

Kroc Center recreation manager Larry Butler (right) and gym attendant Jordan Arrington have hosted Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose's summer basketball camp and both summer and after-school basketball leagues.

John McCarron

“We’re doing some good things here,” said Larry Butler, the Center’s indoor recreation manager. “[Chicago Bulls star] Derrick Rose had his basketball camp here. In August, we had 300 for the playoff of our in-house summer basketball league for all of our area kids. Now we have our co-ed grade school league. We’ll have 200 kids this weekend for the start of that.”

CNI conveyed $12 million worth of New Markets Tax Credits to the project, freeing up other funds to defray operations and programming going forward. 

Doig has high hopes for what the Kroc Center will do for the surrounding blocks of West Pullman. There CNI and the Far South Community Development Corp. are overseeing purchase and rehab of foreclosed homes using the city’s Micro-Market Recovery and Neighborhood Stabilization programs, of which LISC Chicago is a fiscal agent. And LISC Chicago has made a $20,000 project initiation loan to help CNI develop live and work space for artists in Pullman.

“That’s the thinking,” Doig said, “that an anchor like the Kroc Center will create more demand for the homes around it.”

Historic Pullman in the middle
Midway between the emerging Pullman Park and newly opened Kroc Center is the third – and certainly the oldest – leg of the Far South redevelopment effort. The historic town of Pullman was developed in the 1880s by industrialist George Pullman so that workers at his Pullman Palace (Railroad) Car Company would be able to live within walking distance.

But the red brick enclave once hailed as “the world’s most perfect town” was not spared the post-World War II vagaries of plant closings, credit redlining and racial change. Groups of preservationists, such as the Historic Pullman Foundation, have managed – with the help of government and non-profit partners – to save many of the workers’ row houses, the old Hotel Florence, the central clock tower building and the Greenstone Church. But the Great Recession has brought setbacks, especially among the row houses just north of the factory where once lived the African-American porters who staffed the fancy Pullman cars.

Mike Shymanski's Historic Pullman Foundation has helped save gems like Greenstone Church.

John McCarron

There, as in West Pullman, CNI is working with the city to rehab and remarket 11 foreclosed houses. But unlike tonier South Pullman, where rehabbers are able to recoup their costs, North Pullman row houses are selling for little more than half what it costs to repair them.

That situation will change, Doig predicted, if the many plans surrounding Historic Pullman come to fruition. Congress, for instance, is poised to approve the nomination of Pullman as a national historic park. Mercy Housing Lakefront, meanwhile, has redeveloped the old Pullman Wheelworks at the campus’ east end into 210 units of affordable housing.

More recently, CNI and LISC Chicago stepped up to fund a feasibility study to determine if one or more of Pullman’s empty car-assembly buildings can be turned into an artists’ colony of work-live studios. Pullman already has about 20 resident-artists, many of whom have outgrown their row house studios or need bigger space to create larger works … such as welded metal sculptures. 

“That early money, the ‘seed’ money, is what’s hardest to get, so LISC’s $20,000 was critical,” said Arthur Pearson, who chairs the Pullman Civic Organization’s Art Space Committee. “All over the country we’re seeing art-related development used as a building block to regenerate entire communities.”

An uphill push  
Make no mistake, this new east-west vector of Far South Side redevelopment is no Wrigleyville or River North in the making. The 2010 Census found that Pullman, West Pullman and Roseland – all predominantly African-American – lost, respectively, 18 percent, 19 percent and 15 percent of their population during the past decade. Within the two South Side ZIP codes that embrace the three communities, a staggering 9,095 dwellings are listed by as either bank-owned, being foreclosed, or so in arrears they’ll likely be foreclosed.  

Crime is a serious challenge. It was in Roseland that a Fenger High School student named Derrion Albert was beaten to death in September 2009 in an after-school gang melee. An eyewitness video of the killing made network newscasts and shocked the nation, even prompting President Obama to dispatch cabinet officers to Chicago on an anti-violence fact-funding mission. Roseland-Pullman’s 5th Police District, where 26 homicides were recorded in 2011, remains one of the city’s most crime-ridden.

Yet there is a growing sense that corners are being turned. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn have jointly announced creation of a $40 million College to Careers Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TDL) Center at Olive-Harvey College. It makes sense. The Far South Side is one of the world’s most active inter-modal shipping hubs. The potential for freight-oriented development – and jobs, jobs, jobs – is enormous.

Where there are jobs there is disposable income. Exactly how much and where that income is being spent soon will be pinpointed by a LISC MetroEdge market study of the neighborhoods surrounding Roseland’s sleepy Halsted Street retail district.

And so it goes: a retail feasibility study here, a rehabbed row house there. All anchored at both ends – and in its historic middle – by three substantial investments that are beginning to pay “infill” dividends.

“For the first time in years,” said Joel Bookman, LISC Chicago’s director of programs, “neighbors are seeing glimmers of hope, optimism and investment.”

More information: David Doig, CNI, 773-341-2066,


Posted in Economic Development, Housing, Pullman, Roseland


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