Over the last few months, Chicagoans have heard about several new restaurant-related projects headed to Bronzeville. Bronzeville Winery is one of the most anticipated openings of 2020. Turner Haus Brewing, a rare Black-owned beer maker in the industry, is working on opening two projects in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, existing restaurants like Hot Dog Box and Little Sandwich House are already serving the community.
Another project that’s receiving attention is the redevelopment of the former Michael Reese Hospital site. It’s a $4 billion project involving 8 million square feet of residential and commercial space, and yes — that includes a portion for restaurants. The project is called Bronzeville Lakefront.
The first phase of the project involves 1.1 million square feet with a $600 million investment that should reach completion by 2026, with some venues hopefully starting to open by 2024. Look for a community center, a health equity focused innovation hub with office and lab space, a park for 31st Street, and apartments and townhomes. The ground floor will feature retail, with opportunities for restaurants and cafes to serve the workers coming into the venue. Project backers believe that the community needs a place to eat and enjoy themselves, and the first wave of restaurants will likely be simple: a cafe or sandwich shop. They’re still in the design phase, so builders will have more answers in early 2022.
The city has set aside $60 million for the project. There are several groups involved in the project. Six development groups formed GRIT Chicago to oversee the mega-development.
“We haven’t had to sell people,” says Morgan Malone, director of development & external affairs for Farpoint Development, one of the groups part of GRIT. “We really haven’t had any push back from the community because we’re doing the right thing. We don’t have to sell people when you include the community,”
Malone and the other partners have been working on gathering community input for years. The city bought the land in 2008 after with the city’s dreams of hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics finally evaporated.
The goal is to create a multigenerational community with top-notch design that includes senior housing and what younger adults want: entertainment, including restaurants and places to hang out. They’re still a long way from signing leases with hospitality tenants. Malone says they don’t want to leap to a deal too soon. She points to how traffic at brick and mortar stores has dwindled through the pandemic and with more online sales. They wouldn’t want to make a decision that locked them and a potential tenant into a bad position based on what the market could look like in the future.
There’s also ensuring the project has the right mix of local and national chains. Malone rejects the notion that big-name restaurants shun Bronzeville, mentioning the recent influx of fast-food chains like Culver’s, as proof that larger companies have their eyes on the neighborhood.
As far as local business, with an emphasis on Black owned, Malone also wants to make sure the fit is right. She expects a high volume of business — the project should create thousands of jobs — so a restaurant owner needs to be prepared to scale. The project is looking for ambitious entrepreneurs ready to make the leap with the ability to be open within two years.
At the same time, this project isn’t a savior. There are quality restaurants already in the neighborhood, like Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, Honey 1 BBQ, and Yassa African Restaurant. Bronzeville isn’t lacking, Malone says. Still, urban planners didn’t create the many South Side neighborhoods with both residential and commercial use in mind. That’s a reason Chicagoans don’t find many restaurants and bars in those areas.
“Most South Side communities are residential,” Malone says. “It’s not a matter of investment, it’s literally how these communities were designed.”
Bronzeville Lakefront seeks to rectify that choice. Malone stresses that they are taking a responsible philosophy in making sure they’re actually providing value to local residents. It’s a novel idea that other developers should follow.