BRONZEVILLE — The redevelopment of the massive Rosenwald apartment building got a boost from the City Council this week.
The council approved a $5 million interest-free loan during its meeting Oct. 31 to convert the long-vacant complex into 235 low-income rental units and 57,000 square feet of office space.
“This is a landmark building. I’ve worked extensively to bring a project to the ward that brings back this historic building,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who urged her colleagues in a Tuesday Committee on Finance meeting to send the measure to the full Council for a vote.
Former Sears president Julius Rosenwald built the structure in 1929 as affordable housing. It is massive — just the internal courtyard is nearly two acres — and spans an entire city block from east 46th to 47th streets between south Wabash and Michigan avenues. Though once home to singers Quincy Jones and Nat King Cole, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and boxer Joe Louis, the building fell into disrepair in the late 1980s and closed in 2000, leaving a daunting and quiet stretch along 47th Street.
“It was beautiful,” said Tony Bradley, who lived in the Rosenwald in the early 1980s and was chatting about the plans for the building with a friend on the corner of South Michigan Avenue and East 47th Street. “Teachers and doctors, they all lived here. It was a nice neighborhood. We all looked out for each other.”
Bradley and his friends were concerned that youth living with the large number of seniors in the building could cause problems on 47th Street.
“I view the Rosenwald as critical to adding density along the 47th Street corridor and I support my colleague in this matter,” said Ald. Will Burns (4th) at the committee hearings, where he introduced support for another affordable housing and retail development at 4700 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
The current plan includes 235 apartments, the majority for low-income seniors, in a building that largely retains the exterior of the Rosenwald.
The loan approved by the City Council is only the first piece of public support that will be necessary to rehab the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The $5 million loan from the federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization program is to purchase a small parcel at the northeast corner of the site.
The entire Rosenwald site is owned by AMA Realty Group, which purchased the property in 2003, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. A lien was placed on the property in August for $350,000 by the Realtor, Melvin Kaplan of Skokie, who was hired by AMA in 2009 to auction the property.
The entire project is expected to cost $110 million and a representative from the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development told aldermen at the Committee on Finance meeting that the department expected the developers to seek significant additional financial assistance from the city.