“Keep an eye on the Roseland neighborhood’s Michigan Avenue, once a retail strip so popular it was called Chicago’s second Magnificent Mile. Shoppers could find anything from school supplies to furniture to brand new cars. Rocked by two devastating extra-alarm fires within the last year, and now slammed by a pandemic that’s likely to change forever how we shop and gather, the faded and struggling commercial strip faces a tough future.
“But ‘The Avenue’ — as this stretch of Michigan Avenue between 115th and 107th was called in its heyday — now is being targeted by the city for possible redevelopment. The plans were in place before the coronavirus broke out and they’ll need to be modified. But given that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all traditional retail strips hard — have you seen the boarded up stores on North Michigan Avenue these days? — saving The Avenue should be even more of a priority.
“When neighborhood shopping dies, neighborhoods die. The Avenue’s day as a regional commercial giant are not likely to return. People just don’t shop in brick-and-mortar stores the way they used to, and the street’s major retailers, such as JCPenney, are long gone. But the buildings still stand and could be reused in potentially exciting new ways. And if done correctly, the lessons learned here could be applied to troubled commercial streets in neighborhoods elsewhere on the South and West sides.
“A diamond in the rough: Roseland has been included in the city’s new three-year $750 million Invest South/West program, which targets for improvements 10 South and West Side neighborhood commercial corridors. ‘It’s a diamond in the rough,’ city Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox, imported last fall from Detroit by the Lightfoot administration, said to us about The Avenue. “I was surprised and delighted to see it’s all there.”
“According to community input gathered from Invest South/West sessions, Roseland residents want to see The Avenue repositioned to take advantage of new tourist and commercial activity in the neighboring Pullman National Monument district.
“They also want to preserve the street’s existing architecture — an eclectic mix that includes Victorian styles, 1920s buildings clad in decorative terra cotta, and postwar modernism. The Avenue suffered a huge loss last June when an extra-alarm fire claimed the vacant former Gately’s department store at 112th Street. A smaller building at 111th Street occupied by Beacon Light Ministries burned to the ground in January.”
Preservation Chicago has placed The Avenue on its Seven Most Endangered list for 2020. (Sun-Times Editorial Board, 5/12/20)
Chicago’s ‘other’ Michigan Avenue could be magnificent once more, Reviving “The Avenue” in Roseland could teach our city how to bring new life to troubled neighborhood shopping strips across the South and West sides, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 5/12/20