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Shops & Lofts Lesson: Never Give Up

For college student Caprisha Norfleet, it means a solid part-time job that’s enabling her to keep studying towards a health sciences diploma.

Caprisha Norfleet's new job at Shops & Lofts as a Walmart sales associate will allow her to continue her college studies.

Photos by John McCaron

For disabled senior Gloria Allen, it’s a safe and tidy apartment that she can afford, complete with balcony views and – Glory be! – a washer and dryer.

But for the South Side’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood, and especially for LISC Chicago’s many partners there, completion of the Shops & Lofts at 47 means a whole lot more. A ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 14, with elected officials, business partners, nonprofit agencies and many others on hand, was one of the biggest of a series of important milestones.

The $46 million apartments-over-retail complex on the southwest corner of 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue shows what can be accomplished when a community gets organized, aims high… and never gives up.

“This is the catalyst,” said Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, executive director of the Quad Communities Development Corp., the LISC-affiliated community organization that conceived the project, stuck with it through hard times and saw it to completion.

“We are on our way now,” seconded Shirley Newsome, who chairs QCDC’s board and, like Johnson-Gabriel, seems always looking ahead. Yet the two have been plugging away at Shops & Lofts for almost nine years, beginning with the neighborhood’s 2005 quality-of-life plan that the group led, which called for restoration of Cottage Grove as historic Bronzeville’s commercial spine. 

Decline reversed

Restoration? Well, not exactly. When Bronzeville was the cultural and economic center of Black Chicago, it largely was because rigid segregation caused an intense concentration of African-American residents and capital. After World War II, with relatively more options, many middle-class blacks left for greener pastures, and newcomers coming up from the Deep South, with much less to their names, moved into the neighborhood’s now-aging tenements... or the public housing high-rises along the State Street corridor.

By the 1980s, once-proud Bronzeville became Chicago’s poster-child for disinvestment. By 2003 a city land-use inventory counted 20 linear acres of vacant lots along Cottage Grove from 39th to 51st streets. A follow-up marketing study sponsored by LISC found residents had to shop elsewhere for two thirds of their basic needs, especially fresh food.

Frank Petruziello, president of Skilken Development Co., and Shirley Newsome, QCDC's board chair, in front of the new Shops & Lofts at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

So the Oct. 14 ceremony for Shops & Lofts at 47 was a long-awaited and pivotal event. Especially welcome is the 41,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market, one of the chain’s largest stores in an urban market and the anchor tenant that made the rest possible.

Rising above Walmart and several smaller stores are three floors of mixed-income rental apartments, which are joined by three new smaller apartment buildings and a fourth that has been rehabbed. Of 96 total units, 28 are subsidized by the Chicago Housing Authority, 44 moderately subsidized via federal tax credits and 24 available at market rents.

So widespread is optimism about this stretch of Cottage Grove, said Newsome, that the market-rate apartments were the first to be snapped-up and the building is approaching full occupancy.

Many cooks

Many cooks were involved in the making. Early-on the city set up a Cottage Grove tax increment financing (TIF) district with QCDC providing advisory services. LISC came through with pre-development pump-priming, ranging from street banners designed by local art students to morning clean-up patrols to paying for a trip to Las Vegas for Johnson-Gabriel.

Las Vegas? That was a chance for Johnson-Gabriel and real estate consultant Chinwe Onyeagoro to fish for some attention at an annual national convention of shopping center developers and retailers. The pair used the opportunity to meet an Ohio developer intent on doing turnarounds in urban markets.

“I guess you could say they were looking for what we were looking for,” remembers Frank Petruziello, president of Skilken Development Co., which has partnered with minority-owned Troy Enterprises on the project.

But their original concept for the site – “spec” retail space topped by luxury condominiums – dissolved amid the 2007-08 financial crisis. The condo market died, and there would be no retail financing without a solid anchor store.

That’s when then-Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), the founding chair of QCDC’s governing board, came up with Plan B. The residential component was redrawn as rental, and The Community Builders, a frequent LISC partner wise in the ways of subsidized housing, was brought in as the residential developer. Ald. Will Burns (4th) helped Skilken snare Walmart and their new concept for a neighborhood-scaled store, as opposed to their traditional “big box” model.

No better example

“Shops and Lofts,” declared Mayor Emanuel at the April 2013 groundbreaking, means “more jobs, more housing and more goods and services along 47th Street and beyond.”

Gloria Allen on the balcony of her one-bedroom apartment at Shops & Lofts. The apartments are nearly fully leased.

Project financing for the development was typical “lasagna style,” with many layers, the thickest provided by Chase Bank and the City of Chicago. The Community Builders raised the funds to finance the housing units, including Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and was actively involved in other aspects of the project financing as well. LISC’s support included the predevelopment loan of $1 million, as well as those early grants for feasibility.

None of which may be all that significant to Caprisha Norfleet, whose new job as a Walmart sales associate – one of 100 new jobs created so far – lets her continue her studies at Malcolm X College. She’s aiming for a practical nursing diploma…unless, she allows, her Walmart adventure inspires a switch to retail management.

Or to Gloria Allen, a cardio survivor who says she’s “in love” with her third-floor, one-bedroom apartment because: 1) it’s too small for her grown kids to move back, and 2) it has an integral washer-dryer “that will keep me warm, safe and indoors,” unlike her previous, less-than-ideal housing situation, which required her to haul her washing to a laundromat.

To practitioners, though, Shops & Lofts on 47 has a much wider meaning.

“There’s no better example of our community development model,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “Here you had it all – community-led planning, building civic capacity, early seed capital through grants and loans, private developers entering a new market, aldermanic and city support to make it work.”

And did it ever work!”

It was cold on April 2, 2013, when construction on Shops & Lofts began. Here's what the groundbreaking ceremony looked like....

And here are photos from the October 14, 2014 grand opening ceremony.....

Posted in Housing, Lending, Quad Communities


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