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A Black Metropolis Renaissance: 4 Reasons That Bronzeville Real Estate Is Picking Up

Bronzeville rivals Harlem for its rich history and African-American culture. Chicago's "Black Metropolis" was a destination for Southern blacks seeking better lives during the Great Migration and the nieghborhood was an incubator for music (Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, Oscar Brown Jr.), art, culture and self-contained businesses.

Bronzeville fell on hard times over the past 50 years, but there are rumblings in the neighborhood that bode well for another renaissance, one centered around thoughtful real estate development. Here are four key factors in why real estate activity is trending upward in Bronzeville.

1. Location

31st Street Harbor, Chicago

If Bronzeville was on the North Side, developers would have already overdeveloped the market. The neighborhood bridges the Douglas and Grand Boulevard communities, and it is bounded by McCormick Place and the Stevenson Expressway on the north, 51st Street on the south and the Dan Ryan Expressway on the west. The northern half of the neighborhood extends to the lakefront and offers arguably some of the best development opportunities in Chicago because of its closeness to McCormick Place and the downtown core.

The city has worked hard to make this half of the neighborhood attractive to developers with public infrastructure projects like a thorough renovation of the lakefront trail, newly landscaped beaches at 31st and 47th streets, and the construction of an award-winning marina on 31st Street. 

Bronzeville's southern half, meanwhile, will be set up for development spreading from the Obama Presidential Library.

2. An Abundance Of Land

A vacant lot on the 4500 block of South Prairie Avenue in Chicago

After peaking with nearly 79,000 residents in the 1950 Census, Bronzeville's population bottomed out at 18,238 in the 2010 Census. That trend has reversed and Bronzeville's population as of 2014 was 19,430, making Bronzeville one of the few net-positive neighborhoods in a Far South Side that has lost nearly 49,000 residents since 2010.

The population loss resulted in scores of buildings being razed that are now vacant lots the city is selling for $1 to develop single-family homes. But most developers have their eyes on the historic Michael Reese Hospital site, which has the most contiguous land in the area. The city has been accepting RFPs for redeveloping the tract. Reese's proximity to McCormick Place makes it even more attractive; Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Lori Healey said that McCormick Place is out of developable land, and Reese is loaded with it.

3. New Retail

A Mariano's Fresh Market at Pershing Road and King Drive, Chicago

One of the linchpins to development in Bronzeville is Martin Luther King Drive, which intersects the neighborhood, providing residents with a straight shot into the South Loop from Washington Park. The boulevard is wide enough for motorists, public transit customers and bicyclists to share safely.

King Drive is getting much of Bronzeville's population growth, and retail follows rooftops. Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, which has brought over $265M in development to Far South Side neighborhoods, built a new Mariano's Fresh Market at King Drive and Pershing Road that sold for $34M last October, one week after the store opened.

Farther south is the foundation of an entertainment district at 47th Street and King Drive, anchored by the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

4. Multifamily Rent Spreads

Prairie Shores Apartments, Chicago

Bronzeville's population growth bodes well for the future of multifamily development in the neighborhood, and the rent spreads are the best in Chicago.

Bronzeville has 4,000 apartments in mid- and high-rise buildings alone, and residents are drawn to the area's strong retail development activity. Douglas, one of the two community areas where Bronzeville is located, saw an 8.3% hike in rents last year, the largest in the city. Expect those rents to rise higher as people who want to be close to downtown, but cannot afford downtown rents, put Bronzeville on their wish lists.

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