City considers 7 proposals for Laramie State Bank site

Redevelopment ideas include turning historic site into blues museum, marijuana dispensary and art venues, among others

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) received seven responses from developers and community organizations interested in redeveloping the former Laramie State Bank and the nearby vacant lots at 5200-5224 W. Chicago Ave.

As part of the Invest South/West initiative, the city has been inviting organizations to submit redevelopment proposals for mostly city-owned lots. The Laramie State Bank site is the only site one where the lots are split between two private owners, although the city is prepared to buy up the land, if necessary. The idea is to attract development to neighborhoods that haven't gotten much attention and to give local residents input into whatever redevelopment happens. 

When the request for proposal first went out in August, the Westside Health Authority expressed interest in turning the site into a museum of African-American culture. The proposal it submitted recently expanded on that idea, adding a community-run cafe, an arts venue, retail spaced and mixed-income housing.

The other proposals included some mix of affordable housing and retail, with many proposals featuring art hubs and business incubators. According to DPD Commissioner Maurice Cox, all proposals will go through "a formal, community driven review process," and the developer will be selected "in early 2021."

The Laramie State Bank was built in 1929. Longtime Austin residents John Young Sr. and Earline Ruffin bought the building in 1994, and it was designated a Chicago Landmark by the City in 1995. But the building has been boarded up since 2012 due to multiple building code violations. Young and Ruffin currently also own two lots on the west side of the block, and the remaining five lots in between are owned by Chicago Ave LLC. According to city officials, both sets of owners support what the city is doing.

All of the proposals had to follow certain guidelines. They had to preserve and rehab the bank building, include some kind of public plaza components and provide opportunities for local businesses and/or community organizations.

During a meeting of the Chicago Community Development Commission held last August, WHA founder and Director Emeritus Jacqueline Reed said that the organization would be interested in turning the site into the "African-American Culture and Arts Museum" that would include interactive exhibits and perforce spaces.

For the proposal it submitted to DPD, the health authority teamed up with Brimstone Development, of north suburban Northbrook. The company has worked on the redevelopment of several public housing developments, including the Henry Horner Homes.

The proposal calls for the construction of a five-story, 58,000-square-foot building on the lots west of the bank building. It would include 3,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and 50 apartments, 45 of which would be affordable. The renovated bank building would include the museum, an art venue and a "community-run Soul Cafe."

The health authority isn't the only nonprofit submitting proposals. The Heartland Alliance's housing division has teamed up with the Oak Park Regional Housing Center for another mixed-use proposal with a museum.

The new building would include 76 housing units, 53 of which would be affordable. The organizations would set up a "community led board of directors" that would control what goes into about 10,000 square feet of commercial space. The bank building would include a bank branch, although the proposal doesn't specify which bank. The development would also include a Chicago Blues Museum, a business incubator, a community co-working space, a coffee shop operated by an Austin native, and several outdoor and indoor community spaces.

The Austin Community Family Center, a nonprofit that currently offers several housing and recreational services out of the historic Austin YMCA building, 501 N Central Ave., teamed up with River North-based Interfaith Housing Development Corp., Hyde Park-based real estate developer the Rankin Group and the Structure Group to propose what it dubbed the Soul City Citizens Plaza.

The rehabbed bank building would include a bank branch on the first floor and a 7,000-square-foot business incubator on the second floor. The new building would include 56 apartments, all of which would be affordable, and the developers would aim to bring "national chain grocery and local pharmacy tenants" to about 36,000 square feet of retail space. The design would use solar panels.

Holsen Development, an affordable housing developer, and Austin-based New Moms Inc., 5317 W Chicago Ave., which provides services for young moms, teamed up for a proposal that includes an Access Health clinic on the first and second floors of the bank building, a business incubator on the third floor of the bank building.

The new building would include 81 affordable housing units, a GoGrocer grocery store, a small Chicago-based chain that bills itself as a more health-conscious version of 7-Eleven, and a Sonrisa Family Dental location. The proposal mentions that artist Tye Moores, an Austin native, would be involved in some capacity, but doesn't elaborate beyond that.

548 Development, a Black-owned Chicago developer, proposes building 66 affordable housing units, 30,000 feet of commercial spaces reserved for the Pullman-based Majani Vegan restaurant, West Humboldt Park-based Turkey Chop grill, 3506 W. Chicago Ave., and West Humboldt Park-based Bikette spin studio 4353 W. North Ave. The developer would also include Viola Brands, a minority-owned cannabis dispensary franchise. The proposal also features a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics training facility. 

Evergreen Redevelopment and the Imagine Group propose redeveloping the bank building for its original purpose as "a bank, credit union or another community-serving financial institution." They propose having 57 housing units, 46 of which would be affordable, as well as a community garden.

Jupiter Development submitted the least detailed proposal of the seven. It calls for putting a "community gallery," as well a "community space or a non-profit office space" in the bank building. Although it calls for 64 residential units in the new building, it doesn't specify how many of those units would be affordable and did not include details for its plans for the retail space.


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