South Shore Residents Resist Demolition of Walkable Retail Block

former Jeffery Theater
Monroe Investment Properties plans to demolish the bank to create a one-story building. Photo: Eric Rogers

South Shore residents have launched a campaign to rescue their neighborhood’s walkable retail core.

Reclaiming South Shore for All, together with The Planning Coalition (representing over 70 neighborhood groups and block clubs), is urging developers to retain a block of buildings at the busy transit junction of 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard rather than allowing them to be demolished for a fast-food drive-through and strip mall.

Urban Partnership Bank, which took over failed community development banking pioneer ShoreBank in 2010, will close their office on March 22. DNAinfo reported last month that Monroe Investment Partners is “under contract to buy the bank and parking lot,” demolish the two-story bank building and its neighbors, and replace the entire block between Jeffery and Euclid with a one-story building that could include a drive-through-only McDonald’s.

Eric Rogers leads public outreach for the two groups’ campaign against demolition, starting with a petition to aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), Natashia Holmes (7th), and Michelle Harris (8th) to establish a landmark district. The proposed strip mall, he says, “is idiotic on so many levels,” particularly since there’s a “33 percent vacant strip mall with ample parking kitty corner” from the soon-to-be-vacated bank. Rogers said that kind of development is wrong for the area, explaining that 71st and Jeffery “has great transit, but it’s already clogged with cars, so transit-oriented development is needed.”

Mia Henry, who founded Reclaiming South Shore for All three years ago as a campaign to oust corrupt 7th Ward Alderman Sandi Jackson, said that a fast food restaurant “will cause unneeded congestion at a super busy intersection.” She said that there are 6,000 people boarding and alighting buses there each weekday, and that “it’s a critical corner for our neighborhood.”

The intersection “has historically been transit-oriented,” Rogers said, and remains so today: “The population, almost half of which is car-free… cries out for that kind of development now.” Indeed, the corner is part of Chicago’s only remaining “streetcar suburb” retail district that still has a street-running railroad out front: The Metra Electric line runs down the median of 71st Street, and from the Bryn Mawr station it’s just a 25-minute ride to downtown. Five CTA bus routes stop here, including the 14-Jeffery Jump and 6-Hyde Park Express, and Divvy bike-share will expand to the area this year. Fully 43 percent of residents don’t drive to work.

Reclaiming South Shore for All added that Urban Partnership Bank’s actions perpetuate disinvestment in the neighborhood, contrary to its mission as a Community Development Financial Institution intended to serve economically distressed communities. Henry said that abandoning the corner cuts Urban Partnership’s ties to its history: Its predecessor “ShoreBank got its name from South Shore, and the [bank] building is the community’s connection to the entrepreneurial spirit that brought it to life.” Rogers said that UPB “needs to be held to a higher standard for the redevelopment of their own site.”

The closure of both UPB and the Dominick’s supermarket across the street compounds the perception that retailers are forsaking the neighborhood. Henry says that “overnight, on December 31st, this place became a food desert.” Rogers pointed out that “the common element [of Dominick’s and Urban Partnership Bank] is redlining and corporate disinvestment. These two events coinciding have thrown the neighborhood into crisis.”

The next steps, Rogers outlined, are to expand the campaign to attract more scrutiny to the development, researching how to develop the landmark district, and perhaps pursuing other changes like a Pedestrian Street designation that would prevent automobile-oriented development like strip malls and drive-throughs. Rogers expects that Monroe Investment Partners will quickly apply for the demolition permits. Next to the bank is the Jeffery Theater’s remaining lobby, which is rated “orange” by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey and thus automatically receives a 90-day demolition delay. “That’s the most extra time we’re likely to get,” Rogers said.

  • No Ur Fax

    Another example of “we know better than the pros do.” If Eric Rogers thinks his ideas are more profitable, than perhaps he should pony up his $$$ and buy it himself.

    I find it hard to believe that there is such a high demand for TOD, which is very vague in a retail sense IMO, that the developers are going to look past it and build stores and restaurants that are for drivers only and no one will go to and thus lose money and close.

  • Kevin M

    What makes a pro? Having money?

  • Anne A

    Just what the neighborhood *doesn’t* need – a decrease in density and another car traffic magnet.

  • david vartanoff

    Locals often “know better” than speculators from miles away. Just as there are height maxima there should be be minima as well. As to a drive thru McD , retch!

  • No Ur Fax

    could you be more elitist?

  • Please critique ideas, not people.

    As for “elitist,” that seems like an apt description for a drive-through-only restaurant, which only serves people in cars, not those who can’t afford them.

  • You might want to look up the history of South Shore Bank to understand just how jarring this proposal is.

  • No Ur Fax

    I doubt it’s drive through only. Sounds like something a shady alderman from a corrupt district said to skew public opinion that favors her own business interests.

  • I don’t know about this site, but McD’s is piloting drive-through-only locations across the country this spring (because they’re a lot cheaper to run than ones with dining rooms, public washrooms, etc).

  • Paul Scrabblor Fitzgerald

    No Ur Fax, why would we want another strip mall? The Jeffrey Plaza has vacancies and is in part of the same intersection. Who are the ‘pros’ in this scenario?

  • cjlane

    That’s certainly (directed related to) one definition of it, as it relates to real estate development.

  • Guest

    having money means you are a pro at making money, it doesn’t mean actually developing anything worthwhile.

  • JacobEPeters

    having money means you are a pro at making money, it doesn’t mean you actually know how to develop anything worthwhile to a community.

  • Paul Scrabblor Fitzgerald

    The abandoned and incomplete new construction condos on exchange and 72nd suggests that some of our developers aren’t pros at that either.

  • BlueFairlane

    Not that McDonald’s is inexperienced at making poor business decisions, but a number of drive-through only fast food restaurants have come and gone over the last couple of decades. McDonald’s might be willing to subsidize it for some ungodly reason (who knows what whims pass through that clown’s mind), but I can’t see it as a money maker.

  • Poor business decisions? The seaweed-laden McLean Deluxe was pure genius! http://www.howstuffworks.com/5-failed-mcdonalds-menu-items4.htm

  • Kevin M

    Precisely the point of my questions–thanks.

  • BlueFairlane

    Oh, I remember the McLean Deluxe. I had no idea it involved seaweed, but that explains so much.

  • JacobEPeters

    it was meant as a response to cjlane, but somehow got posted twice

  • Kyle Smith

    Is this a designated pedestrian street and are the curb cuts, etc, needed for this car-oriented development allowable under that ordinance?

  • david vartanoff

    Doubt what you choose. Speaking as a former resident of South Shore (now Oakland CA) I despise auto centric development in the ‘hood where as a child I learned the wonderfulness of urban/transit and walkable city life. 71st Street had two movie theaters (saw Psycho, Exodus, 8 1/2 among others), butchers, bakeries, a seriously good ice cream parlor etc. While I am well aware how the neighborhood has “changed (last visit Sep 12 to check out the money being burned on the J14) I see no value in further degradation. As I have argued in planning cases where I live, the city should never approve a s$&*@( project just because some speculator comes along waving money. It is far better to let thelot/building in question stay dead until an appropriate, and often in my experience, better proposal comes along. Four blocks from my front door there was a proposal for a “Taco Charley” (does anyone else even remember this poor imitation of the loathsome Taco Bell?). We beat it, and instead got a two story medical office building–higher RE tax, greater payroll per sqft, lower traffic, no dirty food wrappers on the sidewalk. And, if you crave tacos as I often do, there are many Mexican operated “real” taquerias within easy distance–no need for a fast junk chain.
    If preferring tacos made to order by actual humans overtacos mass produced by some national chain makes me elitist, I welcome the label. The half century of the fast junk food craze has been a disaster in food much as WalMart and Amazon (to name only the most obvious) have savaged locally owned/operated businesses.

  • cjlane

    Making money from real estate development *definitionally* makes one a “real estate development professional”.

    The use of the word does not necessarily imply any value judgment in the results of the development, other than $$. Basically, I’m just saying that there is a *normal language use* of “professional” that is accurate as it applies to a developer, whether or not you like that developer’s particular plan.

  • This is not already designated a Pedestrian Street. It’s not yet clear what Monroe Investment Partners is proposing.

  • cjlane

    One thing that makes a “professional” is, indeed, making money. It is not the only thing that makes a professional, but it is a correct use of the word.

  • rohmen

    Wow, I couldn’t really believe that even a massive franchise like McDonalds would build something as seemingly stupid as a drive-through-only fast food restaurant, but a quick search on the web shows they built one in Atlanta recently. http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/mcdonalds-atlanta-30?select=bzvBM_5phWClgWHWRemlYg#bzvBM_5phWClgWHWRemlYg

  • The J14-Jeffery Jump started in November 2012. It has seen in an increase of 2,000 average weekday riders from when it started to a year later.

    Data: http://www.rtams.org/rtams/ridershipTables.jsp?dataset=ctaBus&ridershipID=J14

    This is many more riders than the 14-Jeffery Express, which the Jump replaced, experienced in the last two years of its run.

    The 15-Jeffery Local has changed very little:
    http://www.rtams.org/rtams/ridershipTables.jsp?dataset=ctaBus&ridershipID=15

  • Mishellie

    And I wouldn’t be shocked if they were often in cities… since that way you don’t have “unsavory” people coming in.

  • Presumably some bright boy in Willowbrook has crunched the numbers and decided the walk-in-to-registers income is outweighed, in some locations, by the “running the customer-accessible floor space” costs, including staffing to clean those areas and “wasting” man-hours running customer-facing registers instead of just assembly-lining food out the drive-up window.

  • Marcus Hersh

    & 73rd, you mean? Tough timing there. Broke ground on that disaster just as the bottom REALLY started falling out. I saw a light in one of the windows a couple months ago.

  • david vartanoff

    Thanks for the J14 ridership ##. I am certainly pleasedto hear it is succeeding. I am curious however whether the traffic light priority system has gone live yet. Has anyone studied whether these additional riders are new transit users, cannibalized from MED or from other CTA services

  • Anne A

    I know a few folks in South Shore and Avalon Park who ride the J14. They’ve all tried using MED and the 28 bus. They like the J14 because it gets them closer to home and/or work, gives them more schedule flexibility than MED and is a little faster than the 28.

  • Eric Allix Rogers

    I actually saw workers there last week! Need to check it out again, but they were laying brick.

  • Eric Allix Rogers

    Thanks everyone for the support! We are excited about this issue, and the fact that it is shining a citywide spotlight on South Shore’s assets, as well as its problems (other than violence, plenty covered already). The petition has already gotten over 200 signatures, and it looks like we have gotten the attention of the bank and the alderman. So far so good!

  • FG

    I thought that McDonald’s was franchised (I don’t know what oversight corporate does on investors at this level) rather than “corporate” in that sense so the local investor (who probably realizes the south side is car oriented, look at the lines at the drive-thru at the Starbucks at few blocks west at Stony) should be called out on this.

    (they did have to brib Starbucks to open there, but it’s done well, or had been, haven’t been by lately)

  • It’s likely impossible to tell from only studying ridership numbers especially because Metra hasn’t tracked ridership at the station level since 2006 (they are conducting a study this year).

    As for CTA services, I don’t know about “equivalent” or parallel services in the area aside from J14. I didn’t look at 71-71st because that’s purely east-west.

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