"We're finally going to start this project," Emanuel said, shortly before a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday.
The $15 million project, funded mostly by Tax Increment Financing cash, will take years to complete.
The project aims to widen sidewalks and add artwork and trees along the street loaded with Indian restaurants, ethnic grocery stores and a dense population of Jewish residents.
"I cannot think of a better street that represents the coming together of many, many, many different faiths in a common purpose," Emanuel said during Passover and on Good Friday, giving the 50 construction workers hired to complete the project a mayoral blessing.
The first phase of construction between Sacramento and California avenues would begin in the fall or in spring 2015. The four-block stretch would be the first of five sections of Devon Avenue to get the face-lift. Work on the final section, from Kedzie to Sacramento avenues, would be begin in spring 2016.
All told, the streetscape would extend from Kedzie Avenue to Leavitt Street.
The city said $13.3 million of funding for the project will come from the area's TIF district, while the remaining $1.7 million will come from a grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) said people from all over the Midwest come to Devon Avenue to shop in "an international marketplace."
"I've always said that Devon Avenue was a diamond in the rough," she said. "This streetscape is going to make Devon Avenue shine.
"It's my dream that this streetscape will attract new businesses, new customers and new people who will want to relocate here and bring up their families in such a wonderful community."
Ivan Tomic, president of the Croatian Cultural Center at 2845 W. Devon Ave., said Devon has needed a face-lift "for a long time."
Curb "bump-outs" also will be installed at intersections to reduce the distance pedestrians need to cross the street. On side streets, the city plans to add potted plants and metal seats. Colorful, decorative screen also would be added behind the seating areas.
"I think it's going to be a lot safer for people walking along the walkways," Tomic said.