In November, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot commemorated the second anniversary of INVEST South/West by announcing three new mixed-use projects that will be realized as part of her signature $750 million initiative focused on revitalizing ten historically disadvantaged neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides through new, community-centered development.
Selected from six proposals submitted to the city’s planning department, the three winning projects represent a combined $126 million investment in the Humboldt Park and South Shore neighborhoods. All three projects—two in the West Side’s Humboldt Park and one in South Shore— are led by minority-helmed development teams.
Team Pioneros, an all-Latino team comprised of progressive architecture and design practice JGMA, Park Row Development, and All Construction Group, will lead the largest of the three projects: a transformative $53.9 million overhaul of Humboldt Park’s long-vacant Pioneer Bank & Trust building into a dynamic community hub featuring entrepreneurial incubator space, a Latino cultural center, and office space.
In a statement, JGMA president Juan Gabriel Moreno pledged that as a “personal commitment to the site,” the practice will relocate from its current offices in the River North neighborhood to Humboldt Park when the project is completed and serve as the rehabilitated landmark bank’s anchor tenant. As noted by Chicago YIMBY, the nearly century-old building’s top two floors are set to be home to JGMA’s new offices while the lower three levels will house the cultural center, incubator space, and workspace. Per the proposal, the space will be realized in collaboration with the Business Technology Education Center (BTEC) and Arquitectos.
Designed by Munich-born Chicagoan bank specialist Karl M. Vitzthum, the neoclassical bank building, with its Roman columns and soaring three-story lobby, strikes a commanding presence on the northwest corner of North Avenue and Pulaski Road. The monumental structure, described as “Chicago’s most beautiful bank” when it first debuted in 1925, has sat empty and in an increasing state of disrepair since 2008. That’s the year its last tenant, the San Juan, Puerto Rico-based Banco Popular, moved out of the historic, five-story space and into a new, less vast location across the street according to the Chicago Tribune. Banco Popular had occupied the historic building since the mid-1990s.
While its demographics have shifted over the decades, Humboldt Park, anchored by a National Register of Historic Places-listed green space of the same name that spans more than 200 acres, has been a Puerto Rican stronghold since the mid-20th century.
In addition to breathing new life into the old Pioneer Bank building itself, Team Pioneros’ redevelopment plan also calls for a new, nine-story residential building that will rise directly north of the bank on a .75-acre parcel that’s currently home to a parking lot. Fused together with the revitalized bank building, the 75-unit apartment complex will be 100 percent affordable and is also set to include offices for Humboldt Park Family Health and potentially a new neighborhood library branch. Renderings released by JGMA depict the building as a series of stacked cantilevered boxes including a two-story parking garage perched above the base of the structure, expansive terraced outdoor space, and a vibrant, multi-colored facade.
“The Team Pioneros INVEST South/West landmark Pioneer Bank project in Humboldt Park is not only pioneering for Chicago, it is pioneering for an entire industry as one hundred percent of our teams consist of Latino and Latina owned firms in development, construction, design, and engineering, all coming together to work on a transformational community project,” said Moreno in a statement.
Noting his company’s decades-long history working on projects for Chicago’s Latino community, Park Row Development principal Luis Puig added: “Our project is intended to be a cultural destination that places significant attention on the landmark Pioneer Bank building, creating a continuum of its history while acknowledging the cultural significance and contributions of the surrounding community.”
In total, ten RFP-winning INVEST South/West projects were announced over the course of 2021 for neighborhoods including Austin, Auburn Gresham, Englewood, South Chicago, North Lawndale, Bronzeville, New City, and, most recently, Humboldt Park and South Shore. The respective designs of the projects are being finalized for groundbreaking later this year.
Alongside the Team Pioneros redevelopment of the Pioneer Bank site in Humboldt Park, the other two INVEST South/West projects announced by Lightfoot in November include the Ave., a $25.3 million development featuring mixed-income housing, a restaurant, new offices for the nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services, and more planned for the southwest corner of Chicago and Central Park Avenue in Humboldt Park. In the South Shore neighborhood, the winning RFP was Thrive Exchange, a $47.3 million multi-site proposal adjacent to the Cheltenham station on Metra Electric’s Main Line.