A boarded up building that has been vacant for twenty years at 839 W. 79th St. will be getting a breath of new life, thanks to the funds provided by Benefit Chicago through the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). The Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) will gut the nearly 60,000-square-foot building and transform it into a multi-tenant Auburn Gresham healthy lifestyle hub.
“We want an activated building that is promoting health and wellness, that has 100 plus living wage jobs in the building. What makes that so important for us is that the employees in the building, whether they are from this community, they live in this community or other surrounding communities, will be able to purchase the brick bungalows, and brick two flats, and other homes that are in this community,” said Carlos Nelson, Executive Director of GAGDC.
A collaboration of The Chicago Community Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Calvert Foundation, Benefit Chicago was created to expand the pool of loans and investments available to mission-directed for- and nonprofit entities, which, due to the communities or populations they serve, often find it difficult to access capital from commercial sources. The Benefit Chicago fund has distributed $12 million in financing and has raised $77 million so far. The fund is aiming to reach $100 million.
LISC Chicago, which “connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier,” is directing financing from the Benefit Chicago loan to GAGDC to reinvigorate the building. That said, this project is actually part of a larger neighborhood planning strategy spearheaded by LISC called the Southwest Corridor Collaborative, a targeted and place-based economic development initiative that works across South Side neighborhoods that have created Quality-of-Life Plans to comprehensively improve communities. These plans involve a steering committee of community leaders and elected officials, as well as a residents in self-selected task force groups (business, economic development and jobs; education and youth development; health and wellness; housing; safety, security and faith-based institutions; and senior services). LISC provides resources such as an urban planner, access to data, and other experts. Once the plan is developed, LISC helps communities and organizations try and drive resources to the plan. With Auburn Gresham, the focus of the plan is on lifelong learning and education, beefing up the commercial corridors and economic development, and stability in housing.
“When businesses see a community-based organization redeveloping a project that is outlined in a quality of life plan that has been inked by 15,000 residents — a unified effort — they want to be a part of that. We have not had a problem at all getting businesses who are interested in this building. The great challenge though is getting businesses to come to the other areas of the community. Down the street, you’ll see vacant parcels around the business district, and vacant mixed-use buildings, so that’s where doing a development project like this, near 79th and Halsted, which is densely populated, will provide the impetus for other developers and businesses to want to come and join in, because a lot of folks want to get on the bandwagon when they see success,” said Nelson.
However, the Benefit Chicago financing through LISC is merely a catalyst to get much of the groundwork going. Nelson says more capital is needed to see the project through fruition.
Any person or business interested in investing in Chicago communities through the Benefit Chicago Fund can do so online through the Calvert Foundation website at https://www.calvertfoundation.org/invest
GADGC expects initial occupancy the last quarter of 2018 and 100% occupancy soon there after.