WOODLAWN — A South Side megachurch plans to create an 18-acre “cultural” complex with mixed-income housing, performance venues, Black-owned businesses and more along east Woodlawn’s 63rd Street corridor, church leaders announced Friday.
The Woodlawn Central Master Plan, a proposal centered around and led by the Apostolic Church of God at 6320 S. Dorchester Ave., could bring $300 million-$600 million in investment to the neighborhood over the next decade, its backers said.
The master plan calls for up to 870 housing units, a 154-room hotel and 215,000 square feet of office and retail space, among other amenities. The projects would be developed on properties near the church, including church-owned parking lots.
The plan will prioritize “established and emerging” Black entrepreneurs and creatives, though national and international partners are welcome, said developer J. Byron Brazier, son of Apostolic Church pastor Byron Brazier. More than 80 percent of Woodlawn residents are Black.
Woodlawn Central is “the introduction to a rare but specific model that says the only way to develop the Black community is from the inside out,” J. Byron Brazier said.
The wide-ranging plan, which redevelops 8 acres of property, includes:
- A mixed-use complex on 63rd Street north of the church with 605 housing units and 47,000 square feet of offices and shops.
- A 200-seat theater and two 20-seat “shoebox” theaters “designed for local entertainment,” with seating flexibility to draw performers with wider fanbases, Brazier said.
- A nine-story, 810-space parking structure to replace the redeveloped lots. The structure would include 38 housing units and retail space.
- A redesign concept for the 63rd Street Metra station. Metra has not discussed the plans with developers nor agreed to a redesign, Byron Brazier said Friday.
- A 126,000-square foot office and retail building.
- A 530,000-cubic foot vertical greenhouse with 56 housing units.
- Senior and workforce housing options.
- An energy microgrid on 64th Street to power the developments.
A hotel chain will anchor the campus, which is centered less than a mile from the Obama Presidential Center site in Jackson Park, Chicago Business Journal reported Monday.
J. Byron Brazier said he was “asked to hold off” from naming the chain Friday, but they will confirm the business in the next 30 days.
“We hope that there is a lot of synergy with the Obama Center,” J. Byron Brazier said. “We believe that there’s already synergy there, with the overall conceptualizing of what 63rd and Dorchester can be. It makes sense to have a hotel.”
After years of disinvestment and blight, residents have seen a surge of development and international attention — particularly east of Cottage Grove Avenue — since the Obama Center plans were announced in 2016.
The Braziers did not specify how many of the proposed units would be reserved for affordable housing.
“We will add inventory of affordable housing to this community, as well as be a place of destination for the businesses that are here,” Byron Brazier said. “We will meet the Woodlawn ordinance specifications for affordability.”
Much must be done before the complex is built, including final designs, financing, environmental reviews and public approval processes, J. Byron Brazier said.
The developers’ “aggressive” timeline is to break ground in 2023 and complete “at least 85 to 90 percent” of construction by 2026, he said.
“We call 63rd and Dorchester” — which will host the 605-unit mixed-use complex, office and retail building and the hotel — “the living room” of the development, J. Byron Brazier said. “We believe that’s the best place and we’ll work our way around that.”
A quick turnaround on the project plans will require modular construction, where a structure’s components are pre-made before being assembled at the construction site, J. Byron Brazier said. The developers plan to use the Full Stack Modular process.
“I want to get this done as quickly as possible, because I believe … a catalyst shouldn’t take 10 years,” he said. “There’s so much more in the community that deserves this level of attention.”
“There’s going to be different levels of quality” to the construction depending on the units’ prices and amenities, he said. “We’re not, you know, connecting trailer homes together and cladding them together. This is actual technology.”
Byron Brazier credited Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; Gensler; AECOM; Citibank; the University of Chicago; Preservation of Affordable Housing; residents who attended 1Woodlawn community meetings; and the church’s congregation for assisting in the plan’s creation.
“We began to present all the way through to the [church] board, to the congregation, and now we’re here with the community,” Byron Brazier said.
The project proposal resists false perceptions about Woodlawn and other Black urban communities, J. Byron Brazier said.
“This is our opportunity to show the rest of the world that our communities are not what has always been thought of as ‘the ghetto’ or ‘the hood,'” he said. “This is our opportunity to show our culture, and to show how we serve our own community and serve the rest of the world.”
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