Photo: Mayor Lightfoot (Twitter)
A new healthy lifestyle hub is coming to the Auburn Gresham community. The healthy lifestyle hub located at 839 West 79th Street is a part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West Initiative. Mayor Lightfoot and members of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) were joined Friday by political and community leaders for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the new addition on 79th Street.
Mayor Lightfoot created the Invest Southwest Initiative to create more equitable investments in underserved communities on the south and west sides of Chicago. Initiated shortly after taking office, the city identified 10 Chicago communities that have suffered from decades of disinvestment. Located in a formerly vacant 100-year-old building, the healthy lifestyle hub will hold a clinic, bank, restaurants, cafe, coffee shop, and high-tech kitchen and training center.
Carlos Nelson, GAGDC director, spearheaded the project with funding from the Invest South/West Initiative, the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, and the Chicago Bears. According to a 2019 research report published by the Urban Institute, there was a 400% capital investment gap between investments on the north side versus the south and west side communities in Chicago. Using this data, the mayor created the Invest South/West Initiative pledging to invest $750 million in public investments with the hope of generating more investments from the private sector. After two years the initiative has secured over $1.4 billion in investment commitments from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
The brainchild of Carlos Nelson the lifestyle hub focused on the community’s needs. Mayor Lightfoot said listening to the community’s wants was key in developing these community-driven projects. “You can’t go into a community with your own vision of what people need. You have to go into a community and listen to the people who are here. The people closest to the problem are the ones closest to the solution.” In addition to the $4 million received by the Invest South/West Initiative, the lifestyle hub won the Pritzker Traubert Foundation’s $10 million prize in 2020. Nelson said, “Winning the Chicago prize catapulted this magnificent community-led project into national attention as a model for community-led and sponsored planned projects.”
Housed in the four-story building will be a University of Illinois health medical facility that will include a pharmacy and clinic offering medical, dental, and mental health services, a Bank of America, and Mickey’s Retro Grill. In addition, the Chicago Bears contributed $600,000 to create a high-tech kitchen and training center that will give local chefs and members of the community an opportunity to gain experience and create healthier food options at home.
The healthy lifestyle hub is just the latest in economic developments coming to the neighborhood. In addition to the lifestyle hub, the city awarded 13.5 million in a community development grant to the yellow banana company which owns the Save-A-Lot Grocery Store chain. Yellow Banana committed to transforming six Save-A-Lot grocery stores on the south and west sides that suffer from food insecurity, including one around the corner from the lifestyle hub in Auburn Gresham. The mayor is also investing $11 million in streetscape improvements to beautify these neighborhoods.
With a mixed-use affordable housing development under construction across the street, and a 35 million renovation to the Auburn metro station less than a few blocks away, the mayor said it marks a new chapter in this neighborhood’s history. She stressed the importance of the impact projects like this have, especially for young people who live and attend schools in the area. “For far too long, kids walks have been marked with vacant buildings sitting empty and underutilized. When a child sees that, it says we don’t care about you or your neighborhood. We don’t care enough to invest.” Speaking specifically to the students at Leo High School located next to the lifestyle hub, she continued, “I want kids at Leo to see a community that is vibrant, thriving, and that cares about our future.”
State Representative Mary Flowers who has represented the Auburn Gresham community for over 30 years said she remembers when the building wasn’t fit for an animal. She says she remembered grandmothers begging for food stamps and crying as the children went hungry. She says she looks forward to the future. “I know that these doors are going to be bustling with children and laughter and music and the aroma of good food. We are going to have healthy people living a healthy lifestyle and a healthy community.”
The healthy lifestyle hub was built using a majority of minority-owned service providers. According to Teresa Prem real estate consultant on the project, 73% of the service contracts were contracted to minority-owned firms and a majority of the workforce consisted of members of the community.
The new lifestyle hub will add over 150 jobs to the community. With access to healthy food options, quality health care, jobs, education, and training, the Lifestyle Hub provides much-needed resources in the Auburn Gresham community. Illinois State Senator and Auburn Gresham resident Jacqui Collins, says projects like these do more than address economic development but help in violence prevention. “You hear the outcry of crime and violence, but no one cried out about economic violence. Crime is a result of your environment. No former administrator saw the value of this community. No other administration believed in the community.”
Senator Collins credited the Mayor for not only listening to the community’s needs but also addressing the root causes of violence and inequities facing underserved communities. “The 839 building is central to what every historically disinvested community desires as an expansion of equity and opportunity”.
Local politicians praised Lightfoot for her vision of a more equitable Chicago with the Invest South/West Initiative. Alderman David Moore said While previous administrations were more talk than action, Mayor Lightfoot was intentional and advancing equity. “Government has to step in and that’s what happened. Government can’t step in if you don’t have a mayor that is intentional and willing.”
Mayor Lightfoot’s Invest South/West Initiative has faced its fair share of criticisms. Recent articles highlighted critics that say little development has occurred with the initiative. The Mayor rejected these criticisms saying, “We are not deterred. We’re going to keep rolling up our sleeves and do the work because it’s the right thing to do. And this moment, we must go further south of Roosevelt Road and further west of Ashland.”
Mayor Lightfoot spoke exclusively with Chicago Defender Managing Editor, Danielle Sanders about the significance of the new healthy lifestyle hub in Auburn Gresham, the goals of the Invest Southwest Initiative, and why unraveling decades of inequity takes time.
The Healthy Lifestyle Hub is slated for its Grand Opening on November 11th. For more information visit the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation’s Website at http://www.gagdc.org.