SOUTH SHORE — An entertainment complex long proposed for one of South Shore’s busiest intersections is now projected to open in late 2023, and its developer says she is adjusting her plans to ensure the complex is a sensible investment amid the pandemic.
Inner City Entertainment plans to build a seven-screen, dine-in cinema; an eight-lane bowling alley; a sit-down Creole restaurant and rooftop event space at the northwest corner of 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard.
To do so, the structures from 1938-1962 E. 71st St. would be demolished, though no demolition permits have been approved. The properties include the 98-year-old Jeffery Theater and the former Urban Partnership Bank.
Inner City Entertainment owns the parking lots across from the Jeffery project site, which would be used for the center, chairman and CEO Alisa Starks said.
Total costs are estimated at $20.5 million, though that could soon change as Starks finalizes the design and completes pre-construction work, she said.
Due to the pandemic, “construction pricing went up and some materials were getting scarce,” Starks said. “We’re hoping those prices will come down a little bit or maintain, but not go up any further. Our new target grand opening date is June 2023, but no later than November 2023.”
There are no pending applications for zoning changes or building permits on the project, planning department spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said.
Inner City Entertainment received $2.5 million in Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grants from the city last year.
The developer also received $800,000 last month, as one of 10 grant recipients from the Chicago Community Trust’s We Rise Together initiative.
The funds support projects in Black and Latinx communities across Chicagoland, whose health and economies were “hit hardest by the twin COVID crises,” We Rise Together Director Gloria Castillo said.
“I am grateful to We Rise Together for their investment and continued commitment to uplifting our South and West Side communities,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “[I] extend a hearty congratulations to the grant recipients who will undoubtedly bring meaningful change to our entire city.”
There are accountability measures built into the trust’s grant to the entertainment center, which faced setbacks prior to the pandemic, Castillo said.
The trust did its “due diligence” in vetting the project’s finances, and Inner City Entertainment appears to be in “very good shape,” she said.
“For each grant that we give, there are time frames and milestones that must be met,” Castillo said. “The funding comes in two tranches. We are confident they will make those two sets of milestones.”
The project was formally announced four years ago, though word of Starks’ concept first leaked six years ago. Before the pandemic, Starks cited the federal government shutdown of 2018-2019 as a barrier to receiving tax credits crucial to the project.
The holdups allowed Starks to avoid the coronavirus “learning curve,” she said. She’s instead seen how entertainment venues have responded to the pandemic and adopted them into her business plan.
Starks moved the planned event space outside to the rooftop and is looking to install air filtration systems that limit the spread of coronavirus, among other plans to make the center “virus ready.”
With venues struggling through the pandemic, “I feel very fortunate that I wasn’t operating or wasn’t under construction,” Starks said. “It would’ve been even more craziness.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said last May she “can’t wait” for the project’s groundbreaking, as it is “so needed” in South Shore. The alderman is “very” satisfied with the developer’s transparency about the project’s progress, chief of staff Kimberly Webb said.
Hairston will provide whatever support Starks needs moving forward, including advocating for more public funding if needed, Webb said.
The public likely won’t receive further updates on the project “until we’re ready to show those new designs and start getting feedback,” Starks said. She’ll then rely on local media and nonprofits, a groundbreaking ceremony and a yet unfinished website to share more details.
“This won’t be a secret,” Starks said, adding that “a little funding” from We Rise Together will support community outreach.
The proposed Urban Core wellness hub, which would rehab a vacant building at 1840 E. 71st St. into a yoga studio and other storefronts, also received a We Rise Together grant.
The wellness hub project is led by Julia Perkins, a neighborhood resident whom Starks has known “as far back as I can remember,” Starks said.
As other commercial strips in Chicago face vacancies due to absent, out-of-state landlords, at least four of the six buildings along 71st Street from Urban Core to Inner City Entertainment are owned by South Shore residents, according to county records.
It will be a “great day” when Starks, Perkins and the other local owners “take a picture all together” with the properties they own and operate, Starks said.
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