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Lightfoot's Plans For Underserved Neighborhoods Roll Forward Ahead Of Schedule

Studio Gang's vision for a site at 3418 West Ogden Ave. in North Lawndale.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to revive long-neglected portions of the city is underway and a bit ahead of schedule. Planning officials said this week they are seeking development teams to launch projects in the South Side communities of Bronzeville, New City and South Chicago, as well as the West Side neighborhood of North Lawndale.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development posted requests for proposals for the four sites on Monday. All include conceptual drawings and plans created by architectural firms such as Gensler and Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang. The firms collaborated with community groups to come up with potential uses.

It is the second round of the mayor’s INVEST South/West initiative, which will pour $750M into a dozen commercial corridors in 10 communities.

Most of the sites are city-owned, vacant lots. The first three RFPs were announced in August and targeted Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Austin. DPD Commissioner Maurice Cox originally planned to unveil three RFPs every quarter, but after seeing high levels of interest from developers, he decided to add a fourth to this round, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“I would say that the results have even exceeded my expectations relative to the range of partnerships, the diversity of the development teams and the community wealth-building aspirations,” Cox told the Tribune.   

Future RFPs will be issued for sites in Humboldt Park, Roseland and South Shore.  

One of the program's strengths is that developers can tap into several funding sources, according to Develop CEO Steve Glickman, a former Obama administration official and an architect of the federal opportunity zone program.

“These are places that need more than any one bucket of capital,” he told Bisnow.  

OZs cover much of the South Side and West Side, meaning INVEST South/West developers could offer federal tax breaks to their investors. The Chicago Department of Planning and Development will also give grants to the winning proposals. Other possible funding sources include Low Income Housing Tax Credits, New Markets Tax Credits, the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and Tax Increment Financing districts.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Although some OZs have been criticized for attracting investment to already-upscale areas, many of Chicago's zones, chosen during former Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration, are far from downtown and reach deep into the South and West sides, Glickman added. That provides opportunities for the new mayor's team.  

“They really picked places that were more challenging for investors, and that's created short-term challenges, but in the long term, it aligns very nicely with the economic development priorities of Mayor Lightfoot and Deputy Mayor [for Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir] Mayekar,” he said.   

City officials mostly want to see new housing on INVEST South/West sites, as well as commercial space on the ground floors, especially if it complements existing uses in the surrounding communities or fills in gaps for neighborhoods lacking necessities such as grocery stores.

The Bronzeville location consists of two vacant, city-owned lots on the southwest corner of 47th Street and Vincennes Avenue, next to the Harold Washington Cultural Center, that total about 26K SF. The North Lawndale RFP consists of nearly 43K SF on seven vacant lots between Homan Avenue and Trumbull Avenue, most owned by the city. The New City site is nearly 15K SF on the southeast corner of 47th Street and Justine Street, and the South Chicago site covers 25K SF occupied by a mix of city lots and private property.

Twelve developers last week submitted proposals in response to the first-round RFPs. City officials said they will publicly reveal the details later this month and pick winners by February. Bids for the four second-round locations are due by March 30.

Lightfoot’s approach to bringing additional funding to underserved communities is a break from the past, other experts say.

“A wait-and-see approach — that doesn’t allow for community self-determination or place-based investing — had been customary,” urban planning and transportation expert Steven Vance wrote in Chicago Cityscape. “Another big difference is that the city has acknowledged funding gaps for redevelopment and is explicitly planning to provide some subsidies.”