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Redeveloping 71st Street Brings Question: Do You Want This Near Your Home?

By Sam Cholke | October 23, 2017 6:13am
 Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is trying to find a way to capture the energy around the Obama Presidential Center to get developers to work on 71st Street.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is trying to find a way to capture the energy around the Obama Presidential Center to get developers to work on 71st Street.
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Eric Allix Rogers

SOUTH SHORE — How do you get more businesses to come to 71st Street in South Shore?

That's the question community development experts are asking as they gather to find answers.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce have recruited people living in the community to work on a longterm plan to do for 71st Street what the University of Chicago has done for 53rd Street.

Susan Campbell, director of planning and development for the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development, worked on the university’s effort to lure more businesses to Hyde Park and now in her spare time is doing the same for her own neighborhood of South Shore.

“This is going to be a long haul,” Campbell said Friday.

She said the university started its efforts to boost 53rd Street in 2004 and had the benefits of a full-time staff and the financial backing of the university.

The university also had very little competition from other South Side neighborhoods, but South Shore will now have to loudly make its case as developers eye neighborhoods around the Obama Presidential Library site in Jackson Park.

“The challenge we face is as these developers look for commercial and residential projects, we will have a lot of competition from other communities that want to do the same thing,” Campbell said. “Right now, that’s our biggest challenge.”

The project has lured planners from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to help craft a vision for 71st Street to draw potential developers.

Campbell said the ideas include a more pedestrian-friendly area of restaurants and dining around the South Shore Cultural Center that can get commuters to stop on their way home or entice visitors to the golf course to stay a little longer.

The city’s request for a developer to redevelop the Jeffery Plaza shopping center at 2101 S. Jeffery Blvd. is also being seen as a chance to anchor the strip in a new way, particularly with a movie theater and restaurant complex being planned across the street.

Hairston realizes there isn’t a big institutional player like the University of Chicago to drive development on 71st Street, which is why she’s made sure the incentives are there to deploy when the right project comes along, including tax subsidies and other options.

She said the important thing is to attract the right kind of development to the strip, where half of the storefronts are empty and the street’s businesses are have an overabundance of beauty supply shops, convenience stores and other stores she that said contribute to nuisances on the street.

Hairston said she’s also pushing landlords, whom she claims mostly live outside the neighborhood, to pursue better tenants.

“The question I ask of them is ‘Do you want this next to your home?’ If the answer is 'no,' then we have a problem,” Hairston said.

Campbell said the group is looking for short-term things to do now to improve the feeling of safety on the street and address other issues as they develop a plan that will likely take a decade or more to turn 71st Street in a new direction.