As part of its Invest South/West initiative, the city of Chicago will be looking for developers for two properties in West Humboldt Park, at 3617 W. Chicago Ave and 3601 W. Chicago Ave. 

This project is similar to what the city did with Austin’s historic Laramie State Bank building, 5200 W. Chicago Ave. The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) comes up with the guidelines for what kind of development they want to see, the developers issue proposals and the city chooses the winning developer.  

DPD is currently planning to release the guidelines in late April and the developers would have around three months to submit proposals.  

In order to help develop the guidelines, DPD held two virtual community “visioning sessions” on Feb. 26 and on April 1. Although the city originally only considered the 3617 W. Chicago Ave. lot, which was last used by Be Righteous Baptist Assembly Church, the plan presented at the April meeting also included the 3601 W. Chicago Ave. site, which houses the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago nonprofit organization’s West Side office. The city officials said that any redevelopment plans would be coordinated with the nonprofit. 

During the April 1 meeting, residents suggested a whole slew of possible uses, including a small business incubator and a clothing store. There was broad agreement that social services could be used to address safety, and that the corridor would need more than just one site slated for development in order to achieve real revitalization. 

As part of the Invest South/West, the city is looking to develop vacant sites along major West and South side corridors. For West Humboldt Park, DPD focused on the section of Chicago Avenue between Pulaski Road and Kedzie Avenue. 

During the Feb. 26 meeting, city officials shared four potential sites. Most notably, they considered a site at the northeast corner of Pulaski Road and Chicago Avenue, within walking distance of the controversial Joint Public Safety Training Academy (better known as the “Cop Academy” among activists who opposed its construction), at 4301 W. Chicago Ave.  

Any large bid that DPD sends out must be approved by the Chicago Community Development Commission. The Commission’s March 9 meeting agenda originally included a vote on putting Chicago/Pulaski site up for bid, but the item was pulled from the agenda. 

During the April 1 community meeting, which was attended by around 50 residents, DPD revealed that it preferred the site between Montecello Avenue and Central Park Avenue, because it’s centrally located within the corridor and it made the most financial sense. 

Samuel Sanders said he wanted affordable commercial spaces for new business owners and restaurant owners who lost their physical space due to the pandemic. Community activist Keith Muhammad said that he wanted to see a fitness center and other amenities that would improve residents’ physical and mental health.

A slide presented by DPD officials at a recent community meeting for the city’s Invest South/West initiative. | Screenshot

Maurice Hibbler suggested installing a basketball court for local youth, adding that it would be a good place of teens to burn off some energy and keep busy, which would reduce crime. Other suggestions included a chain clothing store, a chiropractor and a dentist. 

Brian Hacker, a DPD coordinating planner, asked whether residents had any concerns about setting up open public spaces given the level of crime on that part of Chicago Avenue. 

“It doesn’t mean we can’t have activities on the street,” he said. “But how can these spaces be designed to maybe remedy that and have a positive impact on those conditions?”

Muhammad responded the best approach is to make sure the site has social services.

“We need all people on hand to have the wraparound programs to help deal with those who are [drug] users and those who are sellers and try to eliminate [the problem],” he said. 

Derrick Ellis felt that the Joint Training Center would bring the crime down, adding that, more than anything, he was excited to see something happen.

“I’ve been over her for 50 years,” Ellis said. “I have property on Chicago Avenue, I have businesses on Chicago Avenue, and I would like to see those ideas come to fruition, so I can see them before I die.”

West Humboldt Park Development Council Executive Director Adrienne Whitney-Boykin argued that the city should put the other three sites up to bid as well. 

“We want to make it a corridor where everybody finds what they need without leaving the community, and if we don’t do it wisely, we’re going to lose people along the way,” she said. “It’s a small site, honestly and we’re trying to put so much in it that we’re losing our community piece.”

DPD Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Garcia didn’t rule out doing more RFPs in the future.

“This is the first round of investments as part of Invest South/West,” he said. “Not every site can be everything. We can understand that. But it’s important that we set that vision, so we’re ready for the next site, and the site after that and the site after that.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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