Roosevelt Square applies fresh approach to ‘hallowed ground’ of public housing

A rendering of the building planned at 1002 S. Racine Ave.

Moody Nolan and Landon Bone Baker

A large residential development on the Near West Side is getting a push forward with private and public interests locking arms for a common cause. It’s a new phase of Roosevelt Square, the remaking of the former ABLA Homes. The work is devoted to the notion that mixed-income neighborhoods make for a better Chicago.

It also raises an uncomfortable question: Is it ever good when governments break promises?

Around 20 years ago, the city and the Chicago Housing Authority promised to create more than 2,400 homes on a reasonable time frame at Roosevelt Square, a site of about 160 acres. The pledge has been ratcheted down to 2,000. Even when the latest phase is completed, the development will be only about halfway there.

The CHA and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to lease about 26 acres of Roosevelt Square to the Chicago Fire soccer club aggravated critics. Morningstar Executive Chairman Joe Mansueto owns the Fire and wanted to put its training center in the city, not the suburbs. City Hall loves his priorities. But a billionaire was getting what he wanted while poor people languished on CHA waiting lists.

The Fire lease, which involved Mansueto paying for an environmental cleanup, wasn’t referenced during an event last Monday heralding the next development phase. Officials and many residents, including those in CHA units, see the soccer site’s jobs and recreational space as part of a mosaic for a stable and safe neighborhood, even if it means less public housing than promised.

The new phase, led by Related Midwest, brings in 222 apartments, some CHA and others market-rate or at reduced rents under city affordability rules. They would be built in mid-rises at 1002 S. Racine Ave. and at 1257 and 1357 W. Roosevelt Road. The Racine building will get a Fresh Stop grocer and a Slice Shop pizzeria.

Also, Related Midwest will rehab 184 units built in the first iteration of the development. Finally, the developer will finish work at 925 S. Ada St., due to get 15 apartments and a National Public Housing Museum. The building is all that’s left of the old Jane Addams complex that was part of ABLA.

The anticipated completion of this $172 million project is summer 2024, an aggressive construction schedule.

“It’s been challenging, but we’re done more here in Roosevelt Square in the last five years than we’ve done in the last 20,” said Ald. Jason Ervin, whose 28th Ward includes the development. He’s taken heat from critics who wanted more public housing. But the mixed-income concept has strong local backing. Supporters include Mary Baggett, president of the ABLA local advisory council.

Owen Pittman, owner of MIKK Construction, sees the Roosevelt Square project as a historic opportunity for minority-owned contractors such as his own firm.

Nicee Martin Photo & Design LLC

Last Monday’s event was an official groundbreaking preceded by speeches. Lots of thanks were offered all around, but the remarks got to another point behind Roosevelt Square: It’s a massive opportunity for minority- and women-owned contractors usually shut out of such work. Related Midwest, a white-owned firm known for downtown towers, is a leader in efforts to hire diverse contractors.

In her remarks, Lightfoot praised the firm’s president, Curt Bailey, and his team for honorably carrying out work on “hallowed ground” of public housing. “They live their values every single day,” she said.

Related Midwest said 100% of the project’s general contracting work is with minority-owned firms. They include Bowa Construction, Blackwood Group and MIKK Construction. It said 74% of the architecture and design jobs have been assigned to minority- or women-owned firms.

Getting that work has meaning for all involved. For MIKK, it’s another step up for owner Owen Pittman, who said he started as an entrepreneur about 15 years ago, advancing with the mentorship of Related Midwest and others. He said his Dolton-based firm has employed up to 30 people, depending on the work at hand, and has had a part in earlier phases at Roosevelt Square.

In his speech last Monday, he put it in perspective, lauding his deceased mother’s sacrifices in raising seven children in public housing.

“She also lived to watch three of her kids get shot,” Pittman said. “My brother, who was a basketball star at Marshall High School, was shot in the leg walking to the store, ending his basketball career. He’s fine. He owns his own tax service right now, doing well.

“One of my older sisters was struck in the neck jumping Double Dutch in the park. She’s fine. She’s a teacher right now.

“I was shot and robbed walking to school, Crane High School, not too far from here.” Pittman paused, then said, “And here I am, giving a speech after Curt Bailey and the mayor of Chicago.”

He said a Related Midwest executive told him his firm should try building skyscrapers. Pittman allowed that he’s had the same wish himself.

Why not? He and his kin have already scaled mountains.

A rendering shows the National Public Housing Museum in the renovated 925 S. Ada St. building, part of the former Jane Addams complex.

HED and Landon Bone Baker

Feeds,News,City: Chicago,Business

via Chicago Sun-Times – Business

January 30, 2023 at 05:44AM

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