UrbanMain District Spotlight: South Shore, Chicago

January 29, 2019 | UrbanMain District Spotlight: South Shore, Chicago | By Tonya Trice, Executive Director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, Inc. 

The anchor of the community – the South Shore Cultural Center. Photo credit: South Shore Chamber of Commerce

In November 2018, the National Main Street Center selected the South Shore Chamber of Commerce as its new neighborhood district for its Chicago UrbanMain program. The partner organization is receiving technical assistance and capacity building to support its work to foster sustainable and inclusive economic development along the 71st Street commercial corridor on Chicago’s South Side. UrbanMain’s work in Chicago is made possible through a three-year commitment from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

We recently caught up with the organization’s Executive Director, Tonya Trice, to learn more about the organization and their vision for South Shore to become a destination community:

Q. Tell us how the South Shore Chamber of Commerce supports local businesses, nonprofits and local community groups.
A. The South Shore Chamber of Commerce is the lead organization for economic development in the community. We work to strengthen and support our business corridors and small businesses by empowering our members through effective training, technical assistance, and access to private sector and governmental resources. With a focus on attracting new and diverse businesses, we engage all stakeholders to improve the overall quality of life in South Shore. The work we do is inclusive of all community organizations and collaborations are important to our success.

Photo credit: South Shore Chamber of Commerce

Q. How has the commercial corridor transformed over the past few years? Any challenges?
A. The 71st Street Corridor remains blighted and in desperate need of infrastructure improvements, lack of uniformity, façade enhancements, and viable businesses to fill the vacancies. Over the past few years, 71st Street has lost businesses and many storefronts remain vacant.  One of the challenges we face is the inability to attract new businesses because of the poor condition of most of the buildings.  We have not received the cooperation from most of the property owners to improve the appearance of their buildings and make them more attractive to potential business owners. Another challenge is many property owners take advantage of the Vacancy Relief Tax Credit which reduces their taxes if the storefronts remain vacant for more than six months out of the year. This disincentivizes owners to lease their properties to start-ups and local entrepreneurs, and creates a land-banking effect within our community.   

Q. Please describe how each corridor is in a prime position to take advantage of the economic impacts of the Obama Presidential Center and PGA Golf Course.
A. The Obama Presidential Center (OBPC) is located less than one mile away and is easily accessible from all major corridors in South Shore. 

Here's the development potential for each corridor:

  • 63rd Street - Development/ redevelopment activity includes the pockets of vibrant redevelopment activity around the Green Line stations in Hyde Park. There are multi-block stretches of vacant land, but these are adjacent to current redevelopments and may experience spin-off.
  • 71st Street - The character of the corridor is fairly built-out. Redevelopment options would likely require property assembly and demolition of current outdated commercial/ mixed-use buildings. Ideal for entertainment / night life nodes / restaurants family-style.
  • 75th Street – Redevelopment opportunities would include mixed-use properties. There are multi-block stretches of vacant land and large vacant industrial buildings. This corridor is ideal for childcare nodes/professional services.
  • 79th Street - Development/ redevelopment potential is constrained by the current built-out nature of the corridor. There is an opportunity for major catalyst projects along or adjacent to the corridor.
  • Stony Island - The corridor is a solid commercial zone and is in need of significant anchor projects.
  • Exchange Ave. - The corridor is a solid commercial zone and has Transit-Oriented Development potential. The corridor would be great for retail and commercial opportunities.
Photo credit: South Shore Chamber of Commerce

Q. How will collaborating with UrbanMain help reinvigorate the business environment of the South Shore?

A. The UrbanMain collaboration with the South Shore Chamber will be significant in reinvigorating the business environment. The program will provide the technical assistance and support needed to enhance the distinct characteristics of our community and make it more attractive to entrepreneurs, franchises, and national chains. Subsequently, the improved economy will help to “attract back” many former residents who left the community due to lack of services and amenities.

Q. What types of businesses/redevelopment does the community want to see in the South Shore?
A. South Shore residents desire more nightlife amenities such as movie theaters, night clubs, bars, and dine-in restaurants. We are also hopeful that more retailers will realize the economic potential that exists here and open more clothing stores, grocery stores, pet supplies, athletic centers, coffee shops, cafes, ice cream parlors, furniture household goods, etc.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?
A. South Shore has million-dollar mansions and has one of the highest rates of subsidized housing vouchers in Chicago. We also have a high percentage of college educated residents who are middle class homeowners and on the flip side, we have an unemployment rate of 35% among young adults ages 16-24. These statistics can be considered both challenges and chances. I hope our collaboration with UrbanMain will help us capitalize on these opportunities.

The UrbanMain Chicago team will work with the partner organization over an 18-month timeframe. Applications for additional UrbanMain Chicago neighborhood partners will be available in 2019.

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