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Quad at 10, Looking Forward and Back

Time flies when you’re trying to re-develop a neighborhood, even when it seems to take forever to get anything done.

QCDC staff and board members at ground breaking earlier this year for Shops & Lofts development at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Gordon Walek

Ten years ago, the Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC) was formed to enlist residents, businesses, elected officials and other people and institutions in North Kenwood-Oakland, Douglas, and Grand Boulevard to look hard at their neighborhoods, identify what’s needed to make them better, document those recommendations, and then get on with the difficult business of transforming plans into reality.

It’s the same approach followed by 13 other neighborhood lead agencies in LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program – an ambitious, long-term effort funded by the MacArthur Foundation to strengthen underserved communities through comprehensive planning and implementation.

For QCDC’s staff, supporters, and neighborhood partners, it’s been quite a decade. And they’re celebrating it this Thursday with a big shebang at Maggiano’s on North Clark Street. Chances are, amid the speeches and toasts, the backslapping and glad-handing, there’ll be some quiet reflection about how that was then and this is now. Because where QCDC and its neighborhoods are today is different than where they were in 2003.

How it started

To get the lay of the land in the early days, read John McCarron’s overview of the challenges QCDC faced in 2006. Gentrification – not foreclosure – was the enemy. The neighborhoods – rich in historic homes, conveniently located near Chicago’s Loop and employment centers, and absent some notorious Chicago Housing Authority projects razed through the Plan for Transformation – had the potential to catch real estate fire, with the threat of boosting rents and home values beyond the means of long-time residents.

Former QCDC board chair (and current Cook County board president) Toni Preckwinkle, left, and QCDC Executive Director Bernita Johnson-Gabriel at Reavis Elementary.

Alex Fledderjohn

The Great Recession of 2008 solved that problem. Now, the market rate housing in Lake Park Crescent and Oakwood Shores (the mixed income developments that replaced the public housing projects) have been a tougher sell than expected, and the sour economy generally discouraged further residential development. Meanwhile, persistently high unemployment has suppressed the number of shoppers who’d been counted on to support many new local businesses.

But QCDC, technically a start-up back in 2003, has been adaptive and resilient. It made a plan – a quality-of-life plan – and stuck to it, regardless of the massive economic forces beyond its control.

From planning to reality

It planned for a farmer’s market. It has a farmers’ market. It planned for more businesses on Cottage Grove Avenue and to "banish the gray" along commercial corridors. It has more businesses on Cottage Grove Avenue. It planned to establish a Center for Working Families in the neighborhood. It has a CWF in the neighborhood. It planned for an ambitious retail/residential complex at 47th and Cottage. It’s getting a retail/residential complex at 47th and Cottage.

According to a LISC analysis in late 2011, more than $11 million in grants and low-interest loans to QCDC and other partners have leveraged $144 million in additional neighborhood investment. Seventy percent of the actions outlined in the group’s quality-of-life plan have been implemented, or are in the process of being implemented.

Banners that QCDC installed to spruce up the Cottage Grove commercial corridor.

Alex Fledderjohn

“QCDC has gone from being a start-up built around the leadership of the former 4th Ward alderman (Toni Preckwinkle, now president of the Cook County Board) to a highly respected organization,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director and former director of the New Communities Program. “The last few years have been a struggle for every neighborhood organization, but QCDC showed it can take a punch and remain standing. Shops & Lofts is a good example of that.”

Shops & Lofts, the retail/residential complex at 47th and Cottage, had its genesis in the pre-2008 days of easy money and blind ambition – though even under those circumstances it was a tough sell. Still, QCDC stuck with it (read another McCarron piece to see how), and more than seven years after initiating the project, broke ground earlier this spring for a development that will include a Walmart, other retail space, and rental apartments.

“"We've tried to honor the community's plan, despite unforeseeable challenges,” said Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, who signed on as QCDC’s NCP director in 2004 and became executive director three years later. “I am grateful to all who have contributed to QCDC's success and look forward to another 10 years of positioning the south lakefront communities of North Kenwood, Oakland , Douglas, and Grand Boulevard as vibrant and exciting places to live, work and play." 











Posted in Economic Development, Housing, Quad Communities


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