As the Dec. 6 virtual meeting with the three development teams vying for the opportunity to redevelop the vacant lots around the Kedzie/Lake Green Line ‘L’ station wrapped up, Angela Taylor, the Garfield Park Community Council’s wellness coordinator, and other community stakeholders who spoke, had a message for them:
“Don’t come over her playing with us, because we’ve been played with so many times before and we want to support someone who supports us,” Taylor said.
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) wants to redevelop a collection of lots that have been grouped into three sites: Site 1 is at 3148-56 W. Lake St., the former location of the Garfield Park Community Garden; Site 2 is at 3201-09 W. Lake St. and 201 N. Kedzie Ave.; and Site 3 is at 112 N. Kedzie Ave. and 3201-15 W. Maypole Ave.
Over the past few months, the city took developers and architects, many of them with either West Side ties and/or previous West Side development experience, and assembled them into teams. During the Dec. 6 meeting, all three teams expressed a preference for Site 2.
The meeting marked the first time the teams went before the community. Each team presented their qualifications and answered questions. As many attendees expressed skepticism about the entire project, the teams touted their West Side connections and work in the community, and assured the attendees that were committed to listening and investing in the community whether they get chosen or not.
East Garfield Park has seen gentrification in the last decade, and it has already affected demographics. The community went from being 91% Black in 2010 to 83% Black in 2020, and the housing prices have been rising.
The Lake/Kedzie project is part of the broader Invest South/West initiative that’s designed to steer development toward historically disinvested communities. DPD sent out a request for qualifications for the possible developers this summer and the city is looking to select a development team by next spring.
The first development team was made up of Citizens for a Better Community, an Austin-based affordable housing developer, Botanical City, a Chicago landscape designer, and Productora and JGMA design firms, which are based in Mexico City and River North, respectively. Melvin Bailey, head of the Citizens for a Better Community, touted his record of hiring young men from the community and training them in building trades, and said he was pleased that the project is getting community input.
“So many times, when those projects come to the community, the only time we’re aware is when the bulldozers go on to the site,” he said. “It’s been so heartbreaking for us to see a bunch of signs go up in our community, and there has been no community input, no community involvement.”
Juan Moreno, president of JGMA, touted his firm’s work on other Invest South/West projects, including the work to turn the underutilized 10th Police District station parking lot, 3201-3423 W. Ogden Ave., into mixed-use development with affordable housing.
“We believe that architecture should be for all and it should be elevated, so we can transform the community,” he said.
The second team is made up of Chicago-based Evergreen Real Estate Group, the Black-owned, Chicago-based Imagine Group, Los Angeles-based Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects and Chicago-based HED design firm.
Torrey Barrett, one of the Imagine Group co-owners, said that, when his firm took part in an Invest South/West project in the South Side’s Auburn-Gresham community, their initial proposal got strong pushback and they adjusted accordingly.
“The community told us, ‘Hell no, that’s not what we wanted to see for Auburn-Gresham,’” he said. “We had to take a step back. We started from scratch.”
Barrett also said that business development is an important part of all Imagine projects and the Lake/Kedzie project would be no different.
The third team included Humboldt Park-based KMW Communities, Camden, New Jersey-based the Michaels Organization, TRUdelta, Humboldt Park-based Studio Dwell, Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa. KMW owner Bill Williams, who said he lives half-a-mile away from the site, said that their goal is to have everything the community would need, including affordable housing, retail and social services.
Westside Branch NAACP President Karl Brinson expressed skepticism of the teams’ commitments to the best interests of the community, saying that, to the best of his knowledge, Bailey was the only leader of any team who comes from the community and has been working in the community for years.
“We need people who have some staying power, who’s been there,” he said. “We appreciate people [who are] coming from the outside to help, but we need to be self-sufficient and be able to support ourselves, and the only group I see [that has] that is Citizens for a Better Community. […] We don’t like being exploited. We’re tired of being exploited. [The meeting attendees] are not stakeholders, they’re shareholders, that’s important.”
Gloria Austin, who said she has lived in East Garfield Park for the past 65 years, argued that the meeting was missing input from the community’s Black residents who aren’t plugged in and don’t know the meeting is even happening.
“We need to reach out to those who are not in those meetings, we need to go to the streets,” she said. “We need to meet them where they are, we need to assist them in getting their hands dirty, and do the right thing. I don’t care how pretty the building is, if we do not involve this community, what you’re going to see 10 years from now, is another piece of neglected land that’s been left behind.”
The development team leaders responded that they were very conscious of those issues.
“That’s the reasons why I got into this [industry], I was tired of developers who don’t look like me, coming in, developing and leaving,” said Barrett, who is Black. “We employ 300 youth, ages 16 to 24, every year, and they’re the ones out here, looking for someone to invest in them. I hear you loud and clear.”
Bailey said that, regardless of whether his team is chosen, he intends to keep working to better the community and that he didn’t see the project succeeding without the community’s involvement.
“It’s going to take us all on this call to lock arms and show that there’s change,” he said.