Chicago Sun-Times

$5.4 mil­lion in city grants awarded to 32 busi­nesses

- BY FRAN SPIEL­MAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man Business · Austin · Lori Lightfoot · Chicago Metropolitan Area, Illinois · Detroit · Bank of America · United States of America · Robin Hood

A fit­ness cen­ter in Austin and a gro­cery store in Auburn Gre­sham. A deli in Back of the Yards, a restau­rant in Bronzevill­e and a bak­ery in Lit­tle Vil­lage.

Those are among the 32 Chicago busi­nesses shar­ing $5.4 mil­lion, thanks to the first round of Neigh­bor­hood Op­por­tu­nity Fund grants awarded since Mayor Lori Light­foot took of­fice and the first since she re­vamped the pro­gram to fuel her In­vest South/West ini­tia­tive.

Grants will range from $37,000 to $250,000, with spe­cific amounts fi­nal­ized as projects are re­fined. Nearly 90% of the re­cip­i­ent busi­nesses are mi­nor­ity-owned. Half are lo­cated in com­mer­cial cor­ri­dors tar­geted under In­vest South/West.

“They’re just a host of neigh­bor­hood-serv­ing ameni­ties that we are try­ing to pop­u­late the front doors of these neigh­bor­hoods with,” Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sioner Mau­rice Cox told the Chicago Sun-Times.

When Cox came to Chicago from Detroit, he talked about cre­at­ing “20-minute neigh­bor­hoods,” in which all of the el­e­ments of a liv­able com­mu­nity were within a 20-minute walk. That is true now more than ever dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, he said.

“Crises may come and go, but you still need a place to do your dry cleaners. You still need a place to go gro­cery shop­ping. You still need a place to have a sit-down meal. These are 32 en­trepreneur­s who have com­pelling vi­sions and busi­ness plans that want to fill that space,” the com­mis­sioner said.

Karla Estela Rivera, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Free Street The­ater, is in line for a $47,000 grant that will be used to ren­o­vate an ex­ist­ing store­front the­ater in Back of the Yards.

“It’s an old store­front that used to be an air con­di­tioner re­pair shop. We have had that space since 2017. What we want to do is trans­form it into a fully func­tional the­ater and mul­ti­pur­pose space that serves as a com­mu­nity artis­tic hub, pro­duc­ing shows that are by, for, in and about the Back of the Yards com­mu­nity,” Rivera said.

“Arts spa­ces merit this kind of in­fu­sion as an es­sen­tial part of not only the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of a com­mu­nity, but also as a con­tin­ued sta­ple of a com­mu­nity.”

Tay­lor Staten is in line for a $180,000 grant she plans to use to hire two part-time de­sign as­sis­tants and con­vert an old build­ing at 2320 East 79th Street into an ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign stu­dio in­stead of run­ning the busi­ness out of her home.

“I’ll be able to pur­chase my first lo­ca­tion and, po­ten­tially, start an ar­chi­tec­ture camp for young Black stu­dents in the neigh­bor­hood. It means that more young Black kids will be able to learn about ar­chi­tec­ture. And it will be the first Black-owned ar­chi­tec­ture de­sign stu­dio on the South Side. I’m very ex­cited. It means a lot for the com­mu­nity,” Staten said.

Four years ago, the City Coun­cil signed off on then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to gen­er­ate a pot of money to re­build strug­gling neigh­bor­hoods at the ex­pense of down­town de­vel­op­ers. De­spite con­cerns it would cre­ate a may­oral “slush fund,” al­der­men agreed to let de­vel­op­ers in a broader down­town area build big­ger and taller projects so long as they agree to share the wealth with long-ig­nored neigh­bor­hoods on the South and West sides.

Light­foot made the Robin Hood pro­gram her own with re­forms tai­lor-made to fuel her $750 mil­lion plan to bring “trans­for­ma­tive change” to 10 such neigh­bor­hoods.

The changes pave the way for busi­nesses to re­coup 100% of a project’s to­tal price tag, pro­vided they are owned and staffed by lo­cal res­i­dents. Re­cip­i­ents get ac­cess to lend­ing coaches, de­sign pro­fes­sion­als, con­struc­tion ad­vis­ers and pro­gram “concierges.”

“These are ar­chi­tects . . . who will give them as­sis­tance on how to build out their in­te­ri­ors and how to re­store their store­fronts to con­struc­tion man­agers who will help them iden­tify con­trac­tors who can do the work to fi­nan­cial coaches,’’ Cox said.

Be­fore the coro­n­avirus pan­demic brought de­vel­op­ment to a vir­tual halt, the Neigh­bor­hood Op­por­tu­nity Fund be­came an em­bar­rass­ment of riches, thanks to the down­town de­vel­op­ment boom.

The big­gest pay­ment to date was gen­er­ated by the now-com­pleted Bank of Amer­ica Tower project at 110 N. Wacker Dr., with a $22.9 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion.

 ?? GOOGLE ?? Free Street The­ater in Back of the Yards is in line for a $47,000 grant that will be used to ren­o­vate its ex­ist­ing store­front the­ater.
GOOGLE Free Street The­ater in Back of the Yards is in line for a $47,000 grant that will be used to ren­o­vate its ex­ist­ing store­front the­ater.

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