“Plans for renovation of the historic Laramie State Bank building in Austin are taking shape. Nearly 20 small businesses are planning to remodel or open on the stretch of Chicago Avenue that calls itself the Soul City Corridor. And Shawnie Jones’ year-old Chicago Eats Sports Bar is enjoying robust demand for catering and special events.
“OPRHC Executive Director Athena Williams expects to close on its financing in the fall, with most construction to take place in the first half of next year. Supply chain delays have raised the cost of the project to about $55 million from $38 million previously projected, she says.
“Austin is one of 10 neighborhoods receiving an economic boost under the city’s Invest South/West initiative, which aims to revitalize Chicago’s most disinvested communities. Since the program’s launch in 2019, the city has awarded 10 projects valued at around $400 million. About half are expected to break ground this year. Overall, the broad program has attracted $1.5 billion in public, private and philanthropic investment commitments.
“‘It’s about process,’ says Malcolm Crawford, president of the nonprofit Austin African American Business Networking Association and manager for the Chicago Avenue corridor. People in the community are used to fighting, with an ‘it’s me against the world’ mentality, he says. Now that resources are coming, ‘we have to figure out how to make it happen.’
“The Chicago Avenue corridor is seeing an influx of new businesses, some funded with city Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grants, others with private capital. Jones, a longtime entrepreneur who opened Chicago Eats Sports Bar last year at Chicago and Laramie, says the business has taken off with events such as baby showers and retirement parties. Catering demand from local schools and hospitals has helped. The city is spending $21 million to improve the streetscape with lights, benches and elements to build on the Soul City theme.
“Developer Lennox Jackson plans a 20-unit residential building with market-rate apartments, hoping to attract more affluent tenants who don’t qualify for subsidies but can’t afford the higher rents of downtown or neighborhoods like Bucktown. ‘If you increase discretionary income of residents, that helps to attract retail tenants,’ Jackson says.
“Despite the tensions rising from the influx of investment, community leaders say they are optimistic. ‘This project is bringing opportunity for the community at large,’ Williams says. ‘We have to go beyond our corner. It represents all of Austin.’ (Crown, Crain’s Chicago Business, 7/8/22)
This is an ideal development project for INVEST South/West and we strongly applaud Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox for selecting Laramie State Bank for the program. We recognize and applaud their strong leadership in ensuring a outstanding outcome for the building and community, and their commitment and efforts to strongly reinvest in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Preservation Chicago has been advocating for Laramie State Bank building for many years, but with more urgency since it became vacant after its 2012 foreclosure. It was a Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2019. We have attended many building court hearings to provide support for the building. We been in regular communication with the owners and stakeholders with ties to the building, including the alderman and Cook County Land Bank. We have attempted to find private developers with an interest in tackling this restoration and reuse of this building. We’re thrilled the City has stepped forward. This is a outstanding outcome for the building.
An economic revival finally reaches Austin; A stretch of Chicago Avenue called the Soul City Corridor sparks opportunities for businesses to revitalize one of the city’s most disinvested communities, Judith Crown, Crain’s Chicago Business, 7/8/22
Austin’s Laramie State Bank Is Becoming A Museum. But First, It Needs Emergency Repairs To Fix Severe Water Damage; The building has rapidly deteriorated since it was foreclosed in 2012. In the coming years, it will be transformed into a museum, a business incubator and a café, Pascal Sabino, Block Club Chicago, 6/16/22
Austin’s Laramie State Bank Is Becoming A Museum. But First, It Needs Emergency Repairs To Fix Severe Water Damage; The building has rapidly deteriorated since it was foreclosed in 2012. In the coming years, it will be transformed into a museum, a business incubator and a café, Pascal Sabino, Block Club Chicago, 11/11/21