BRIDGEPORT — It's dismissal time at Donovan Park day camp. Parents and caregivers arrive at the green spot at 3620 S. Lituanica Ave. to find their happy little tykes who rush into their waiting arms.
Surrounding the ballfields and playground are newly constructed and partially built homes where crews hammer away on the roof or linger on freshly sodded lawns.
Parts of Bridgeport around Donovan Park are booming as new construction transforms a once-hardscrabble area into a modern center of family life.
"We've had 45 babies born in just our Lexington homes in the last three years. Those first groups of babies are all going into preschool this fall," said Regina Castle, a sales manager with Lexington Homes, a collection of luxury homes carrying price tags of up to $529,990.
More Lexington homes are on the way: A combination of row homes and single-family homes between 37th Place on 38th Street, the Lexington Square 3 development is nearly sold out before construction has even started, Castle said.
"We're building, basically, a block," she said.
Another developer is also using the park as an anchor: Along 37th Street, a separate development of big brick single-family homes called Morgan Street Homes is just about complete, with sales prices fetching up to $508,000.
Some of the newly constructed homes popping up in the area, with their pastel colors and white picket porches, look more in place in Mayberry than hardscrabble Bridgeport.
"It's bringing that North Side look. I hate to say that. But having the porches, it's a friendlier, fresh look for Bridgeport," Castle said.
U.S. Census figures show a slight decrease in the number of families living in Bridgeport but, for some newcomers, the lure of new construction and proximity to Downtown is irresistible.
After bouncing around apartments in the North and Near West Side, Jamie Ghafari and her husband Amer opted for one of Lexington's Bridgeport homes. The 'burbs were out of the question.
"There's a lot of families. There's a lot of kids [our daughter's] age. Pretty much every night all the kids and parents are outside playing in the yards. We put our toys in the yard, everyone kind of shares, and they all have fun," Jamie Ghafari said.
The Ghafaris are bucking a longstanding trend in Bridgeport, a classic Chicago neighborhood where families stay in one area from one generation to the next.
Said Castle: "Coming into the city and not being the new kid on a block is huge. Everybody's new here [at Lexington]. Everybody's from somewhere."
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