Austin was once a thriving community. Today, despite its challenges, it is on its way back to that. The last decade has been full of dedicated community stakeholders relentlessly working to bring opportunities for sustainable change. Here are some memorable moments along our journey that created the time and space we find ourselves in.
- The Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA)’s vision for a culturally distinctive commercial corridor inspires research that focuses on the potential for leveraging underutilized land to promote Black culture, arts, entertainment, and seeking economic development, job creation, and new business development that serves residents. As a result, the portion of Chicago Avenue between Austin Boulevard and Central Avenue is established as the Soul City Corridor.
- Laquan McDonald’s murder causes the city to ask groups like AAABNA what communities need. The answer is intentional focused investment of city dollars, resources, talents and influence to help businesses grow, thrive, rebuild and start. Then Mayor Rahm Emanuel responds with a commitment that results in the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, as well as Retail Thrive Zones which years later Mayor Lori Lightfoot transforms into INVEST South/West.
- Avenue 72 Chicago becomes the first Special Service Area (SSA) in Austin. SSA’s are improvement districts that reinvest tax dollars back into the community through special services and programs. SSA 72’s biggest goal for Austin’s Chicago Avenue corridor between Central and Cicero is to improve safety, economic vitality, and establish a cultural identity that will foster business growth and development within the corridor and for the community at large. The nonprofit Westside Health Authority manages and carries out the initiatives of AV 72 Chicago.
- Court hearings over the future of Laramie State Bank cause residents to worry about this important historic site. Many attend the hearings and write letters to local officials and media to try to help.
- Preservation Chicago’s most endangered buildings list includes Laramie State Bank, raising its profile as an opportunity for catalytic redevelopment but one that will need major financial and community support to achieve.
- Implementation of the Austin Forward. Together (AFT) quality-of-life plan begins, addressing a set of comprehensive, community-led strategies for neighborhood change. Created from the ideas of over 500 community stakeholders, it aims to attract, coordinate, and support opportunities to improve the community’s narrative, education, housing, youth empowerment, economic development, public safety, and civic engagement. Plus, the Chicago Avenue corridor is identified among the focal redevelopment projects in the plan.
- INVEST South/West is announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to drive investment to neighborhoods historically overlooked. The initiative targets Austin, with a focus on the Soul City Corridor, actually expanding it to include the Retail Thrive Zone area and SSA Avenue 72. Priorities include streetscape improvements, connections to financial support for existing or new businesses, and identifying specific lots for development such as Laramie State Bank.
- The ASPIRE Initiative is named one of six finalists for the $10 million Chicago Prize and starts garnering investments. This effort is created out of several goals and ideas from AFT and outlines how Austin can build a stronger cradle-to-career pipeline through four investments strategically clustered around existing assets in an area bound by Madison, Chicago, Central, and Laramie Avenues: The Aspire Education & Wellness Campus; Aspire Austin College & Career Academy; The Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation; and Aspire Housing. The $121-million-dollar effort is a collaboration between ACT, Westside Health Authority, and By The Hand Club For Kids.
- INVEST South/West releases Request for Proposals for the redevelopment of Laramie State Bank and the Austin United Alliance was selected. Their proposed $37.5 million project will renovate the landmark bank building to potentially include a blues museum, bank branch, café, and business incubator. The approximately 20,000 square-feet of adjacent land might be redeveloped into a mixed-income, multi- story rental building that includes a green roof, public plaza, social spaces, and outdoor art. The project is expected to generate up to 150 construction jobs and around 22 full-time positions.
- POPCourts! on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Lockwood is a vacant lot turned event spacewhose grand opening is attended by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, other government officials, and residents who are all excited about the programs and liveliness it brings to this part of Austin.