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Heart of Chicago: Man Rehabbing Buildings to Help Revitalize Neighborhood

By Chloe Riley | June 20, 2013 8:59am | Updated on June 20, 2013 10:12am
 Chicago resident Keith Alessi bought up four Heart of Chicago buildings over the past three years. The property at 2354 S. Oakley Ave. was recently finished and turned into condos, with an art gallery space in the works.
Heart of Chicago Buildings
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HEART OF CHICAGO — Four well-known buildings on Oakley Avenue have been bought up by a man on a mission to kick-start the neighborhood’s business corridor.

It started in 2010 when Chicago resident Keith Alessi bought the property at the northeast corner of Oakley and Coulter Street.

A year later Alessi, who lives in Lincoln Park, picked up the building that used to house the old Biaggio’s Italian restaurant at 2354 S. Oakley Ave.

That same year he picked up a former community dance hall at 2244 W. 23rd Place and the West Town Funeral Home at 2433 S. Oakley Ave.

Alessi, who’s originally from Detroit, said back in the '80s he used to love eating at the little Italian restaurants along the strip. When he came back to Chicago seven years ago and saw things in disrepair, he jumped into action.

“I’m not a developer, I’m just a guy who’s been going to that neighborhood for some 30-some-odd years,” he said.

The former Biaggio’s at 2354 S. Oakley Ave. has been turned into nine condo units with hardwood floors, 11-foot ceilings, bay windows and granite countertops.

Of the property’s two commercial spaces, Alessi said one will be an office and the other an art gallery where he wants to feature work by local artists.

“Keith Alessi” is a name familiar to many of the Italian restaurant owners along Oakley Avenue.

Roger Wroblewski, who’s owned Ignotz Italian restaurant for 15 years, said what Alessi’s doing is a positive for the neighborhood.

Especially for the old Biaggo’s building.

“That building was falling on its face and if he didn’t do it, the city would have probably had to come and demolish it,” Wroblewski said.

Robert Bogolin, son of Bacchanalia owner Paula Pieri, said business has been slow the past few years and he looks forward to any foot traffic the new construction may bring.

“It’s not that bad of a neighborhood right here on Oakley,” Bogolin said. “That’s why if they can build this strip up here and make it a little more lively and young, it’ll be a good thing,”

Ultimately, Alessi said it’s for these neighborhood restaurants that he’s done what he’s done. In addition to the building rehabs, he’s also started heartofchicago.com, a website dedicated to the goings-on in the ‘hood.

“My name’s not on these projects,” he said. “I’m not looking for personal gain. I’m just doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”