CHICAGO — After successfully easing the area's food desert and lack of jobs, further development at the former Ryerson Steel plant site in Pullman will now tackle another problem: bringing quality restaurants to the Far South Side neighborhood.
Chicago Neighborhoods Initiatives, the group that brought Walmart and a cleaning supplies business to Pullman, has announced that it will bring Chipotle and Potbelly to the massive development on 111th Street near the Bishop Ford Freeway.
The trendy, fast-casual restaurants will not only bring more jobs to the area, but will elevate quality of life for a neighborhood clamoring for more dining options, Pullman-area Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said.
"These will be the first quality restaurants in the 9th Ward in a very long time," Beale said. "This is the ice breaker to having multiple restaurants in the neighborhood."
Developers submitted to the city this week the latest plans in a years-long project to redevelop the massive, blighted property that used to house a steel factory.
If approved, construction on the buildings will begin in spring, with a planned opening next fall, officials said.
The plan calls for a strip mall along 111th Street, directly in front of the Walmart development that has done so much to revitalize commerce in the area, said David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhoods Initiatives.
The strip mall will house a Chipotle, Potbelly, a T-Mobile store and will have space for another two or three businesses. A smaller, 10,000 square-foot building will also be built along 111th Street, Doig said.
"This is the first kind of fast-casual [restaurants] in the neighborhood," Doig said. "It's exciting that national retailers are recognizing the improvements being made here."
A controversial, massive Walmart opened at the development site in September 2013, after city leaders finally agreed to let the national retailer operate in the city.
Supporters said the discount chain retailer would help alleviate the "food desert" in the area by giving residents access to healthy produce and groceries.
Since then, the development has seen a Planet Fitness and clothing store Ross move in to the area. Method, an environmentally friendly cleaning supplies maker, opened a plant in the development in early 2015.
Doig said Walmart has been the catalyst for the successes at the development site.
"Once we got Walmart, that kind of opened the doors," he said.
Now, Beale said he is hopeful and excited to see some small, local businesses move into the 111th Street storefronts.
"It really laid the foundation to build on 111th with small businesses and restaurants," he said of the development. "We're going to create even more jobs."
The small-retail space along 111th Street is not the end of plans by Chicago Neighborhoods Initiatives, Doig said. He's hopeful the site can attract one more big box retailer — maybe a home improvement store — and then the group will wrap up with residential properties on the north end of the development, near 103rd Street and Doty Avenue.
"Really, we're just getting started transforming the community," Beale said.
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