Apartments, stores and performing arts center planned in Morgan Park

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Apartments, stores and performing arts center planned in Morgan Park

The transformation of an empty grocery store and abandoned property on the Far South Side into new apartment buildings, stores, parks and a performing arts center is expected to start late this fall, with plans to use it temporarily as a shelter for asylum seekers having been halted.

The redevelopment of about 12 acres on the northwest corner of Halsted and 115th streets into the Morgan Park Commons is under the direction of the nonprofit Far South Community Development Corps. The property was home previously to a Jewel Food store and the Halsted Indoor Mall.

In the fall, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration proposed buying the property to shelter some of the thousands of people who have been bused to Chicago after crossing the southern border into Texas to seek asylum. Aldermen opposed the idea, but relented when Albertsons Companies Inc., the owner of Jewel-Osco stores, agreed to sell its 6.5 acres of the property to the city for $1.

No tents were erected and no people are scheduled to occupy the property before construction of Morgan Park Commons begins, said Ald. Ronnie Mosley, who represents the 21st ward, which includes the site.

The City Council approved the purchase with the condition that the 6.5 acres would automatically transfer to the Far South CDC on or before Oct. 31, Mosley said.

The Far South CDC already owns the other 6 acres that will be part of the project, said Abraham Lacy, president of the organization that advocates for economic, environmental and social justice on Chicago’s Far South Side and in south suburban Cook County.

“This has been a vacant site since about 2008,” when Jewel moved from its 67,000-square-foot grocery store there to a new store farther west. The empty mall was torn down about 2014, he said.

“To get something going after so many years is going to be pretty phenomenal,” Lacy said. “This is almost the downtown of West Pullman and at a crucial intersection that ties together three neighborhoods, West Pullman, East Morgan Park and Roseland.”

Ideas for the property have evolved since 2018, when the Far South CDC became involved. The organization considered renovating the empty grocery store and using the entire property for retail or commercial tenants.

“But we saw COVID really depressed retail,” Lacy said. “The biggest need right now is housing. That’s where the trend is going.”

Lamar Johnson Collaborative

A rendering of one of the planned public spaces in the Morgan Park Commons development. (Lamar Johnson Collaborative)

Lacy called Morgan Park “a real stable neighborhood,” but said, in the last seven or eight years, there has been no new housing.

By about 2021, the plan was for a mixed-use development, combining residential, primarily rental units, with some retail and office space, Lacy said.

The area lacks apartments for people who do not have the means to or interest in owning a home, local leaders said.

“We are predominantly single-family homes,” Ald. Mosley said.

The overall plan includes 16,000 square feet of retail or office space, a total of about 250 apartments, a 13,000-square-foot performing arts and culinary center, a public park and smaller parks with separate play areas for different age children. Lamar Johnson Collaborative is the architect.

Pedestrian paths will connect the area to public transit and Cook County Forest Preserve trails.

“A plaza on each corner and one in the middle will signal to the community that this is going to happen in a grand way,” Mosley said.

Lamar Johnson Collaborative

The site plan for 12 acres of property in the Morgan Park Commons. (Lamar Johnson Collaborative)

The site plan for 12 acres of property in the Morgan Park Commons. (Lamar Johnson Collaborative)

The project will be built in five or so phases, scheduled as funding and resources allow, Lacy said.

The first phase is expected to start in October or November, with demolition of the old Jewel store and installing underground utilities and streets, with DL3 Realty as a co-developer.

Construction of two four-story buildings, with retail space on the ground floor and apartments on the three floors above, will follow in 2025, Lacy said. The two buildings combined will have 84 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The CDC will fund the first phase with $15 million from the state and tax credits from Chicago for low-income housing. Sixty percent of the rental units will be reserved for low to moderate-income households, with Preservation of Affordable Housing Chicago involved.

The site also lies in the 119th and Halsted Street tax increment financing district, which is due to expire in 2026, so TIF funds for improvements are available. The Far South CDC has other financial partners, too, Lacy said.

Local officials hope the new rental units will reverse the area’s decline in population over the last 10 to 20 years. The total build out of the project likely will take seven to eight years, Lacy said, but getting apartments up early in the development is key.

People can start moving in, as the buildings are finished.

“That way you build momentum,” Lacy said.

The second phase includes putting in a 2.3-acre park in the northwest corner of the site that will connect with the Major Taylor Trail, which runs from the Dan Ryan Woods south to Whistler Woods. Lacy hopes the park and landscaping will make the location an attractive place to live as construction continues.

At this point, a 12,000-square-foot performing arts and culinary center will comprise the third phase. The center could include art and dance studios, kitchens for culinary classes and a cafeteria.

Lacy said the Far South CDC has a tenant interested in operating the performing and culinary art center, but is not ready to announce the party.

Twelve other buildings with office or commercial use at street level and one- to three-bedroom apartments above are planned. None of those buildings will be more than three stories, Lacy said.

Some of the buildings planned near 114th Street and Halsted in the Morgan Park Commons development. (Lamar Johnson Collaborative)
Some of the buildings planned near 114th Street and Halsted in the Morgan Park Commons development. (Lamar Johnson Collaborative)

The community doesn’t want “a tower neighborhood,” he said. But the residential component will provide customers to support the businesses that open there.

The project also will benefit from improved public transit to the site, with the extension of the CTA Red Line nearby and a new Pace Pulse line and station, with a heating element and free Wi-Fi, on Halsted.

“We are not used to having one like that on this side of town,” Lacy said.

Pace’s Pulse lines run with fewer stops, use technology that adjusts traffic signal timing to favor buses and may include dedicated bus lanes to make travel faster. An online Pace newsletter, says construction of the Pace Halsted Line is expected to begin in 2025, with the route operating in 2027.

A recreation center with an indoor pool, basketball and tennis courts and bowling alley also was envisioned as part of the project, but that component has been put on hold.

“We are still working through the details to determine whether that would be viable,” Lacy said.

Those kind of facilities are very expensive to build and construction costs keep rising, he said.

Kimberly Fornek is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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