PULLMAN — Hope — in the form of a Walmart — rises from the ruins of a steel mill.
Now, that might sound funny in the suburbs. But on the Far Southeast Side in the heart of a 'food desert' the big-box retailer once banned from Chicago by union-backing alderman soon will offer locals shopping options — fresh food, clothes and gear — that they now have to drive miles to get.
"Pullman and Roseland have not had a viable shopping option in almost 30 years. And to have a place to shop, a place that will create jobs and pay fair wages is something we all can hang our hats on," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th). "It's going to add to the health and well-being of a community that has the highest cancer, diabetes and obesity rates. Having a place that we can get fresh vegetables will really help, and you'll see the community literally heal from within."
The Walmart anchoring the new retail strip between 103rd and 111th streets along the Bishop Ford Freeway also has attracted new stores — Ross, a heath club and women's clothing store — that are set to start construction thanks to recently approved city tax breaks.
"It's happening extremely faster than I thought. We're not supposed to start Phase 2 until late 2013 or 2014," said Beale, who this week announced he's running for the 2nd Congressional District seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr. "Now, we're on such a fast track it's unbelievable."
Project developer Chicago Neighborhoods Initiatives already has started recruiting at least two restaurants — a diner and sports bar — to the 10-acre site, which one day could include a hotel and strip mall on 111th Street. Homes and a giant sports complex also are envisioned for the site of the former Ryerson Steel processing plant.
"We get this next phase done and build some momentum, we're still hoping to get a big home improvement store," CNI President David Doig said. "Businesses are really interested in the highway exposure."
The Pullman Walmart, set to open next spring, won't look like those concrete suburban stores. The new store is being built with a red brick Pullman-esque facade aimed at complementing the nearby historic Pullman District.
"It's not their typical prototype, and the fact that they are adding flavor and style to the new Walmart shows that they respect the community and will be good partners," Beale said.