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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

City-Owned Land Near Obama Library In Woodlawn Should Become Thriving Commercial District, Residents Say

By next summer, the city wants to have a solid idea of what to do with commercial land it owns near 63rd Street.

Over 300 community members gathered at the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave for Thursday’s 1Woodlawn meeting.
Troy Closson/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — As the planned completion date of the Obama Presidential Library looms closer, the city is trying to figure out what to do with the vacant land it owns near the library site.  

On Thursday, the city’s Department of Planning and Development met with community organization 1 Woodlawn and other stakeholders at the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave. The department told the crowd that by next summer, they’ll start considering retail and other proposals for the vacant land. 

While proposals for residential developments have already been received, the Dept. of Planning said next summer they’ll consider retail and other opportunities for the commercial corridor of 63rd St., as well as the vacant firehouse at 1405 E. 62nd Place and the former Fiske, Betsy Ross and Wadsworth schools.

“We want (Obama Library tourists) to leave their money here. The city doesn’t own that much land across 63rd, but what we do own, we want to leverage smart,” the planning department’s managing deputy commissioner Aarti Kotak told the over 300 community members in attendance.

(Troy Closson/Block Club Chicago) DPD managing deputy commissioner Aarti Kotak presents a range of amenities community members have said should be developed in Woodlawn.

Looking ahead to the fall and winter, Kotak said the department will hold more public meetings and solicit public comment online as well. 

A Woodlawn page is also being added to the department’s website to provide announcements about community meetings and give residents a direct line to the department, Kotak announced. Establishing a community advisory committee with residents on board, she added, is also being considered.

The department will prioritize projects that can be completed by the Obama Presidential Library’s set opening in 2021 and distribute city-owned land in a short time frame.

DPD managing deputy commissioner Anthony Simpkins lays out an updated timeline for residentially zoned, city-owned land.

“Commercial corridors work [but] they don’t work in isolation,” Kotak said. “You don’t just go to one store and then leave and then go two miles and go to another store: we all like when all of our errands are around the same spot. (So) we wanted to put all the land out at the same time.”

That differs from plans for the neighborhood’s 145 residentially zoned, city-owned parcels, planning department managing deputy commissioner Anthony Simpkins said.

Since the residential land is spread out much further throughout the community, Simpkins said land will be distributed over time, not necessarily before the library opens.

Leon Walker cited DL3 Realty’s Englewood Square development with a Whole Foods and Chipotle as the type of project the company is looking at.

Although he already has a “stack of proposals” for the land, Simpkins said they aren’t currently being reviewed and that over the rest of the year, the city plans to continue community outreach and develop specific criteria to evaluate them into next spring.    

Though the city owns about 35 percent of the vacant land in Woodlawn, attendees expressed concerns about private developers taking over the rest of the neighborhood, which makes public input on that city-owned property extra important, Simpkins said. 

“You do need to engage the city’s process, the city’s land as a counterbalance to that private market so that you can help shape that development,” Simpkins said.

Plans for parcels of privately owned land along 63rd St. were also presented at the meeting by Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3 Realty and urban designer David Scully of Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP.

South Side development and investment company DL3 Realty, Walker announced, recently acquired the Cosmo building at 6250 S. Cottage Grove Ave. and has been envisioned a store like Whole Foods or fast-casual spot like Chipotle in the space. 

Scully said Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP hopes to reveal some design scenarios for property both east and west of Cottage Grove Avenue in the coming weeks. 

To make sure these plans get community feedback, 1Woodlawn said its assembling four committees under the Woodlawn Partnership for Economic Development. The working groups will focus on housing/commercial development, safety, asset alignment and environmental planning.  

Resident Irene Washington said she was happy with the timeline and to get a sense of what the city and private developers were planning for the neighborhood.

“I’m glad they gave us some times and dates for when they want to get these things done. We always hear about plans, but they usually don’t put any action planned behind it, so this was a obviously a welcome change,” Washington said.  

The next 1Woodlawn community meeting is scheduled for November 15th from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Apostolic Church of God.