“Maurice Cox is a planning commissioner with a plan. If it works, and early returns are promising, he’ll be making headway against one of Chicago’s most intractable economic problems.
“It’s how do you get investors, developers and contractors interested in working in low-income neighborhoods where the long cycle of disinvestment still rules? And a corollary: How do you get Black and Brown people involved to prove that when construction starts, it’s not some gentrification plot?
“Cox is the commissioner of planning and development for Mayor Lori Lightfoot. As part of her Invest South/West effort, Cox’s agency has posted requests for proposals involving 11 stretches of well-traveled commercial streets with more to come. Areas covered include Bronzeville, New City, Englewood and South Chicago. Some properties the city owns; others are in private hands. All could be put to better use. The agency has emphasized properties on busy corners in the belief that improvements there could inspire others nearby.
“After taking community feedback, the city has picked winning proposals for three of the sites. For five more, the application deadline has passed and replies are being reviewed. Those eight sites accounted for 35 submissions, most including minority-owned partners, an impressive result for properties long ignored. The city just recently solicited proposals for three new sites.
“How are the properties picked? Cox said his staff knocked on doors. “We asked the community, ‘Where do you think we should start?’” Residents often pointed to empty, boarded-up buildings of design distinction.
“Examples include an Austin site at 5200 W. Chicago Ave., the old Laramie State Bank, and the former Pioneer Bank building at 4000 W. North Ave. and adjacent properties in Humboldt Park. The buildings are designated city landmarks, reminders of when banks were topped only by churches in bringing fancy architecture to neighborhoods. Banks needed it to sell themselves as a secure place to stash money.
“At the Laramie State Bank, the city has selected its favored development team. Heartland Housing Alliance and Oak Park Regional Housing plan a blues museum, bank branch, café and business incubator in the old space with a multi-story rental building on a parking lot next door.
“Pioneer Bank, for which proposals are being sought, was built in 1925 and is owned by an attorney, Loukas Kozonis. He’s developed residential buildings on the Northwest Side. Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said his group has tried to help Kozonis, but communication has been difficult. “We have sent developers his way in the past, but they weren’t able to proceed with any offers or agreements,” Miller said. Kozonis did not return calls for comment.” (Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/3/21)
City invites development ideas for 3 commercial corridors; The requests for proposals aim to encourage investment to communities emphasized in the mayor’s Invest South/West program, David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 4/23/21