BACK OF THE YARDS — Hoping to breathe new life into shopping areas on the South, Southwest and West sides, city officials announced Thursday that 51 small businesses would share $5 million in grants through a new program championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Retail Thrive Zone program will send an influx of cash into long-neglected areas of the city in an effort to build up what Emanuel called the "fundamentals of a thriving economy."
Emanuel said the program funded with money from Tax Increment Financing districts would do more than just spruce up commercial corridors in Austin, Back of the Yards, Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, South Shore, West Humboldt Park and West Pullman.
"Our kids cannot be what they can't see," Emanuel said, prompting loud cheers and applause from the city officials and business owners gathered at Back of the Yards High School.
Many of the businesses selected to get a share of the grant money displayed their wares or handed out samples of their food to tout their new plans before the mayor spoke.
"This program has an economic component but also a moral component," Emanuel said.
Several restaurants, a hardware store, a bakery, coffee houses as well as a new blues and jazz club were selected to receive the grants of up to $250,000 to cover 75 percent of the project's cost. The money can be used to improve commercial buildings with new roofs, facades, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems, officials said.
Included in the businesses picked to get a share of the $16 million program include efforts to open a new craft brewery in Englewood at 6310 S. Halsted St.
Applications for grants to be used by South Shore businesses will be available later this summer, officials said.
The city plans to use $7 million to rebuild the neighborhoods, including the rehabilitation of "distressed" commercial buildings. The effort also envisions pop-up retail spaces, including "BoomBoxes," to help entrepreneurs test new business concepts.
The city expects the effort to create 650 new jobs as well as 1,500 construction jobs.
As Emanuel weighs whether to run for a third term in office, efforts like this one could help him combat criticism that he favored Downtown since being elected in 2011 and let the city's neighborhoods languish.
In June, city officials announced that 32 businesses would each get $100,000 grants from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which is designed to leverage the Downtown development boom and spur economic growth on the South and West sides.
The next round of applications for the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund will be due after Labor Day, officials said.
For the full list of grant winners, go to thrivezones.com.