If new Walmart locations open to mass media attention, it is often due to protests and controversy over the big box retailer’s business practices. At the long-awaited Shops and Lofts at 47 on Chicago’s South Side, however, attention was mostly positive—it has been 50 years since a mixed-use development of this size has opened its doors in this area.
Anchored by a Walmart Neighborhood Market, the $46 million affordable housing
and retail development opened on October 14 after eight years of failed and stalled attempts to revitalize the corner of 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. The largely African American community of Bronzeville flourished through the 1950s, earning a reputation far beyond Chicago as a middle-class “Black Metropolis” where black culture and black-owned businesses rivaled or surpassed Harlem in New York City. Since then it has suffered job loss, disinvestment, and depopulation, despite its proximity to Lake Michigan and The Loop.
Hopes are high that the new project will lead a wave of mixed-use redevelopment in the area. Shops and Lofts at 47 includes a new five-story, 72-unit apartment building with 55,000 square feet of street-level retail space (about three quarters of it occupied by Walmart); two new six-flats; a new nine-flat; and a rehabilitated three-flat. Of the residential units, 44 are affordable, 28 public housing, and 24 are market-rate apartments.
“For those of us in Bronzeville, the Shops and Lofts at 47 are of immense importance. With this development comes access to fresh food, opportunities for employment,” said Ald. Will Burns in a press release when the project broke ground last year. “Equally important, it signals an important success for those who have toiled for decades to recreate Bronzeville as the great commercial and cultural hub of Chicago’s South Side that it was—and can be again.”
Bronzeville is one of seven neighborhoods in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Chicago Neighborhoods Now” plan unveiled in September whose stated purpose is to entice private development with publicly funded infrastructure improvements in Bronzeville, as well as Englewood, Rogers Park, Uptown, Little Village, Pullman, and the Eisenhower Corridor.
Shops and Lofts at 47 garnered significant support from a variety of public and private sources, although it remains to be seen if such investments can sustain economic development. Some see flashy ribbon cuttings like this one and similar fanfare surrounding a Whole Foods that began construction this summer in Englewood as a distraction from fixing underlying socioeconomic issues.
“For the city of Chicago to put an anchor project on Cottage Grove that doesn’t tell us how it fits more broadly with the other things that are happening west of there, it is to me like putting a Trojan horse into a community and taking that community over,” Harold Lucas, president and CEO of Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, told the website Red Line Project in 2013.
The city kicked in $13 million in tax increment financing for site preparation, wrangling more than $8 million in loans mainly from the Chicago Housing Authority, $663,000 in donations tax credit equity, $8.4 million in low-income housing tax credit equity, and “up to” $20 million in tax-exempt bonds. The commercial component won $3.3 million in New Markets Tax Credit equity.