Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3 Realty, greets the audience at the grand opening of the Woodlawn Jewel on March 7, 2019. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

WOODLAWN — DL3 Realty, the developer behind Woodlawn’s first full-service grocery store in four decades, has received $3 million from investment fund Benefit Chicago to tackle more commercial projects on the South and West sides.

The loan will primarily go toward operating costs as DL3 lays the groundwork for plans like the Woodlawn Health Exchange and replacing the old Washington Park National Bank building.

“One of the things that happens to organizations of [DL3’s] size is they have to do one project at a time,” Benefit Chicago executive director William Towns said. “Our hope is that by providing $3 million in impact capital, this will allow [DL3 managing partner Leon Walker] to start multiple projects at the same time.”

Walker said the funds will go to projects that keep the needs of the host communities in mind. DL3 targets “vacant land and underutilized structures” with their development plans to minimize displacement.

Local job creation is also a factor, Walker said. For example, the company’s Englewood Square development brought in items from 40 local vendors to sell in the new Whole Foods.

The process by which DL3 pursues projects “tries to avoid the worst things about gentrification,” Walker said. “No doubt there will be some change, because the status quo is not where we want to be, but we have to revitalize in an engaged way.”

Walker is a South Side native who hopes his return to the community “encourages others to come back and make investments in our own community.”

“We don’t scan the world for opportunities,” he said. “We’re really trying to ask, ‘What does the neighborhood need?’ Based on that assessment, we move forward with projects that meet that need.”

DL3’s goals are aligned with Benefit Chicago’s, Towns said. He hopes the partnership can lead to projects that change the narrative about Woodlawn and surrounding areas, even if it won’t happen overnight.

“This is intended to be long-term, patient capital,” Towns said. “We’re excited to develop projects across the South Side and the underserved markets that have been historically disinvested.”

Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.