Several weeks ago we celebrated the grand opening of Fleck Coffee Company on 79th street. The business has been well received and the owners energy has invigorated others to upgrade their businesses and some to seriously consider opening a business on 79th.
On our other commercial strips 87th and 75th we are seeing new business and new construction, its no secret 79th street is woofully lagging behind. Several months ago Redeye Chicago ran a story on the eastern portion of 79th (600 East- 1200 East). This section has problems and tops the Chicago Police Department's hotspots list. This is where our conversation needs to start.
In the 60's through the late 80's 79th street was a vibrant busy street with small business retailer who offered the community goods and services they needed. There were the iconic restaurants Izola's and Capt's Hard Times Diners along with national chains that fed the community and the Rhodes Theater and Blue Room that offered entertainment. In the 90's, the street changed as the community changed. As residents moved out to the South Suburbs, so did our businesses and other fell to the wrecking ball as owners choose not to continue to invest in the businesses. The economy of the movie industry changed and made it impossible for neighborhood theaters in Chicago to continue and the Rhodes was no exception.
The businesses that replaced those that closed brought substandard goods, second hand appliances, junk food and basically nothing the average resident wanted. The goods and services appealed to those of lower socio economic classes because they were cheap. As this continued, the mixed use buildings along 79th changed as long term tenants moved and new tenants moved in. Owners of these buildings desperate for tenants started to look toward government to assist them. Some of the buildings became home to returning citizens, drug and alcohol recovering patients and relocated legal/illegal Chicago Housing Authority residents. In several instances Chicago Police made massive arrest and threatened to close down several buildings.
Several of these buildings found new owners who emptied the buildings and brought in new law abiding tenants both residential and commercial. One group purchased a building that had become property owned by the City of Chicago. The old Sister Clara Muhammad School building was purchased by Hall Realty. The building was gutted and rehabbed into the modern Chatham Executive building. The building is LEED certified Silver and is considered one of the "greenest" buildings on the Southside. Initially there was a great deal of interest in the building and verbal commitments. Now several years later the building sits vacant as no one followed through on their commitments.
With several buildings on 79th street remodeled and in great condition and renewed interest in 79th Street, residents of Chatham have to start to have an unpleasant conversation. The conversation of "is it time to tear down some of the mixed used building to make way for new modern development". Those that term themselves "Children of Chatham" will probably come up with a 1000 reason why we should not but as many of these individuals no longer live,work, or spend money in the community, their opinions should be noted but not over current residents. If a number of the multi use buildings and several blocks of single use storefronts were torn down it would make the area more attractive to developers who have relationships with national chains. Many residents have and continue to ask for national chains because they offer the amenities that they are willing to spend their dollars on. The residents currently spend dollars with these chains but in other communities. For those who worry about those who live above these businesses, there is ample stock of apartments in and around the community so no one would be forced out. While this seems radical, when the Hyde Park/Kenwood community decided to remodel 53rd street everyone complained. Now no one remembers the complaints and are happy with the remodeling and new businesses.
No political figures in the community has supported this but, I believe its time that we start the conversation no matter how unpleasant. So what do you think?