ENGLEWOOD — When Whole Foods opens in Englewood Wednesday, it’ll join a handful of other businesses in the Englewood Square shopping complex — a project one of its developers credits to "a lot of work and prayers."
Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3 Realty, said that seven of the ten storefronts in Englewood Square have been leased. The other three are still in negotiations.
Retailers include a Starbucks, which opens Wednesday; Chipotle; Villa, Join the Movement, a clothier; Dress Code: Fashion by the Code; Nail Works; and Oak Street Health, a primary care clinic, he said.
The $20 million Englewood Square project used $15 million in New Markets Tax Credit Program subsidies, launched by former President Bill Clinton in 1999, an effort that included an appearance at 63rd and Halsted.
Walker said he’s proud of the project because it’s the first national grocery store in the country to be built and developed with a 100 percent African-American development team. (The developer and general contractor Ujamaa Construction is black owned.) Some $500,000 came from national crowdfunding.
Walker noted that the area was once home to the former Englewood Mall of the 1950s and 60s, which has been described as the largest shopping district outside the Loop at the time.
The area as a shopping district dates back to the early 1900s, when the population was made up of immigrants from Germany, Sweden and Ireland. By 1960, about 6 in 10 Englewood residents were black.
In 1969, Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated a revitalized Englewood shopping concourse at 63rd and Halsted streets as a pedestrian mall. But critics said the approach exacerbated the area’s commercial decline.
"Due to the opening of suburban shopping malls, changing shopping habits, and population shifts, this shopping district had severely declined by the 1980’s, with a redevelopment project in the 1960’s to turn the business district into a pedestrian mall failing to stem the decline," according to one account.
Walker said the site of the new mall “was part of the vibrant Englewood Mall that we all dearly remember as being a real anchor and hub of activity on the South Side of Chicago."
"We want to see that return. We want to see vitality return, life return and we want to see a future return which would bring hope to our community,” Walker said.
This project, which started in 2013, is special to Walker because his mother grew up in Englewood and went to Englewood High School, he said. Both of his parents were teachers there.
Walker, a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Law School and Booth Graduate School of Business, as well as the University of Michigan School of Business, said, “There was a lot of work and prayers to get to this point.”
“It’s certainly wonderful to see it delivered to the community, and see it become a part of what we hope is a ripple effect in Englewood," he said.
Walker said that all the tenants are committed to making the retail shopping center successful and have their own ways to engage with the community. For example, Villa, Join the Movement has a couple of computer terminals for customers to search for jobs. When Oak Street Health opens later this year, employees will be committed to working with seniors.
Walker has other plans for revitalizing Englewood. He’s currently looking for ways to create more housing opportunities by removing abandoned buildings.
“We’re not interested in displacing anyone, we’re looking to build the community up by bringing additional resources and people to the community,” he said.
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