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South Shore Residents Resist Demolition of Walkable Retail Block

10:36 AM CDT on March 20, 2014

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.

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