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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

South And West Side Businesses Get Boost From $25 Million In Neighborhood Opportunity Fund Cash

The fund is an initiative started by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2017 to answer criticism that, despite a Downtown building boom, some neighborhoods were being left behind.

Waggin' Swag owner Marcella Groves poses with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after accepting a grant from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.
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ENGLEWOOD — Eighty-four local businesses will be getting an economic boost as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which diverts Downtown developer money to projects around the city.

The fund is an initiative started by Emanuel in 2017 to answer criticism that, despite a Downtown building boom, some neighborhoods were being left behind.

Business owners and organizations from the South and West sides will get $25 million in grant money, the largest amount the fund has awarded so far. The money will be divided into small grants of $250,000 or more for 10 small businesses, with 74 others receiving $250,000 or less.

Emanuel, who leaves office in three weeks, was on hand to congratulate awardees Monday afternoon at the Hamilton Park Cultural Center, 315 West 72nd Street.

Alds. Carrie Austin (34th), Michael Scott, Jr. (24th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Pat Dowell (3rd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Michelle Harris (8th), Howard Brookins (21st), David Moore (17th) and Derrick Curtis (18th) were also in attendance to fete the award recipients.

Emanuel took time to address opponents of the initiative in a speech shortly before congratulating awardees and posing for pictures.

“There were a lot of alderman who said that this would be nothing but a slush fund, a lot of aldermen said ‘you can’t make that work, there’s no transparency,’ but you’re all a bunch of transparency,” Emanuel said after briefly shouting out the nine aldermen in the auditorium.

“These are the aldermen who said ‘you don’t understand what’s happening in our neighborhoods, what a coffee shop, what a restaurant, what a bakery, what a new theater means to our community.’ So I want you to remember that these are the aldermen who wanted to make this happen.”

Cliff Rome’s Peach’s Restaurant on 47th and Martin Luther King Drive was a grant recipient.

“Having the opportunity to be a recipient of a fund like this changes the game,” the Englewood native said. “It changes the way that you think about things.”

The fund has helped nearly 200 small business owners, allowing them to renovate or expand their storefronts.

This year’s awardees include Englewood Branded, a screen-printing shop; The Annex, a food hall, incubator, and business accelerator; Waggin’ Swag Pet Salon; Woodlawn Station, a mixed-use development with retail space; and Kusanya Cafe.

Mary Ann and Reginald Marsh, owners of South Loop’s M Lounge, were awarded a grant to begin construction of an upscale lounge and private event facility coming to Washington Park later this year.