An initiative aimed at ensuring Black and Latino communities are not left behind as Chicago’s economy recovers from the pandemic has invested in two major developments on the West Side.
Ogden Commons in North Lawndale and North Austin Community Center were among the seven South and West side projects awarded $6.7 million in grants from We Rise Together, a program from the Chicago Community Trust launched in 2020 to “guarantee an equitable recovery” from the pandemic,” Director Gloria Castillo said.
Other projects and businesses that received awards include Brown Sugar Bakery in Chatham; Esperanza Health Center, which operates clinics on the Southwest Side; Little Angels Learning Center in Englewood; Overton Center of Excellence in Bronzeville and Vertical Harvest in Pullman.
“In order for us to really respond to this crisis, we really needed to think about the recovery,” Castillo said. “Certainly, we needed to think about immediate needs like housing, access to food and access to cash. But we also needed to think about the long-term.”
The program builds upon lessons learned after the Great Recession. Commerce began to recover and the economy strengthened, but millions of Black and Latino Americans were still suffering from joblessness, low wages and housing instability, Castillo said.
“The last recession, we didn’t see home values come back. We didn’t see investment in our neighborhoods as the economy recovered. We didn’t even see salaries for Black and Latino people recover at the same pace as their white counterparts,” Castillo said.
To promote an equitable recovery, We Rise Together invested in high-impact developments that can become “a community anchor” for their neighborhoods, Castillo said. The program prioritized organizations with plans that were driven by community input that were “ready to take their projects to the next level,” despite being delayed or derailed by the pandemic, Castillo said.
The North Austin Community Center, 1841 N. Laramie Ave., will be a state-of-the-art sports facility that will bring after-school programs and athletic opportunities to youth. The center is being developed in partnership between By The Hand Club for Kids and Grace and Peace Church, and it was designed by Present Future Architects.
A By The Hand clubhouse being built at the center will serve at least 400 kids with after-school programs offering academic assistance, technology instruction, tutoring and mentorships. The community center will also have a baseball academy, free community soccer programs offered by the Chicago Fire and indoor and outdoor athletic fields.
“The pandemic and what took place with the riots, our kids didn’t have hope for anything. We saw kids were hopeless. We believe we will give kids the opportunity to find some hope,” said John Zayas, pastor of Grace and Peace Church.
The center will be a gathering place for the community, organizers said. Since it will host competitive athletic events, it will bring masses of athletes, families and spectators from across the city to compete against local teams, Castillo said. By drawing people to the neighborhood, it will be a powerful engine for the local economy, she said.
“Those small businesses surrounding that community center could be strengthened just by the number of people coming into the community,” Castillo said.
The Ogden Commons project in North Lawndale will also be a community hub that will boost foot traffic and bring commerce into the neighborhood, Castillo said. Ogden Commons will be anchored by an outpatient medical and surgical center, and it will include affordable housing units, a bank, a children’s museum, a grocery store, restaurants and retail space.
Ogden Commons, to be built mostly on vacant land in the 2600-2700 blocks of West Ogden Avenue, was planned by Sinai Chicago, the Habitat Company, Cinespace Chicago, the Chicago Housing Authority and the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council.
The multi-use development was envisioned as a way of improving issues in the neighborhood laid out in the North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan, like housing, public health, food access and commerce.
“We know these needs exist. We’re hoping the broader Ogden Commons development will help meet all of those needs,” said Rachael Marusarz, the hospital’s chief development officer. “We also know that if we’re not partnering closely with community members and leaders and being directly responsive to the needs our communities are identifying … it’s not going to be as successful.”
Since there will be many essential services offered in one central location, Ogden Commons can have a catalytic impact on the local economy, Castillo said.
“People would start to come to that location. So it starts to drive foot traffic. What that means is that the neighboring businesses, the restaurants, the coffee shops, other businesses start to see traffic drawn to that corridor,” Castillo said. “The small business community starts to thrive around that.”