CHICAGO — From block parties to the neighborhood watch, Chicagoans are known for taking great pride in their neighborhoods. But one South Side group of neighbors is turning it up a notch and pooling their money together in an effort to jumpstart economic development in their community.
Designated as a landmark in 1989 this historic 16-square block community has been home to several high profile names throughout the years, including former Chicago Bear Gale Sayers, Blues legend Bo Diddley and still residing here, Rev Jesse Jackson. But as empty storefronts and absentee landlords began taking hold of the 71st Street corridor, neighbors discussions on how to improve their community started surfacing.
“It was an idea that had been kicked around at backyard BBQs and holiday parties for years,” resident Hubert Thompson said.
Neighbor Michael Kelley moved to The Highlands a little more than three years ago. After learning the building on 71st Street and Bennett Avenue was in receivership, he saw an opportunity.
“I followed the court case on it,” Kelley said. “Put the offer in and got the offer accepted. And then turned around to the neighbors and said, ‘Okay you guys asked for it. Let’s do it.’”
Priced at $600,000, 27 neighbors pooled their money together raising more than $280,000 to purchase the residential and commercial building.
Kelley said getting the neighbors to agree was the easy part.
“Once you have neighbors writing and cutting checks to each other, it becomes a totally different thing,” he said. “You really have to have the trust and expertise and validation.”
He said it was crucial to have checks and balances in place. But with a slew of business people, architects and attorneys taking part in the purchase, Kelley said the skillset was there, each playing a roll and lending their expertise to the process.
Fellow neighbor and attorney Linda Crane Boyd represented the team at closing.
“Our neighborhood is very close knit and we are in constant communication with each other,” she said. “We have decades and decades of relationships.”
Located blocks from the lakefront this south shore neighbor is just north of the planned Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park. Residents are hoping the renovation of the Bennet building will infuse life into 71st Street.
“We thought if we could take this building to help rehab it, we could bring in some small businesses, possibly bakeries, or little restaurants or just bring back some vibrancy to 71st Street,” resident Geralyn Thompson said.
With 16 residential newly remodeled units, the 7051 LLC investment group, as they are called, will now focus on filling the five commercial storefronts.
“We are hoping the residential rents will allow us the freedom to extend our scope to entrepreneurs who we can attract to commercial spaces,” Crane Boyd said.
“The reason we want to do this is to benefit our neighborhood,” Thompson said. “We want to walk to the coffee shop and get a glass of wine or sit down in a restaurant.”
They will also act as their own management company.
The team said they’re hoping their efforts to rebuild their community will causes a ripple effect and inspire others to improve their neighborhood.
And all 27 investors say they are in it for the long haul, as the agreed upon project requires them to make a minimum five year commitment.
The Jackson Park Highlands neighbors are Chicago’s Very Own.