5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has announced plans to redevelop South Shore neighborhood’s 71st Street business corridor. “The goal is to make 71st Street vibrant again.”
The redevelopment project—titled Renew 71—is a partnership between Hairston and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. Susan Campbell, a city planner who took the lead on the University’s redevelopment of Hyde Park’s 53rd Street, is advising the project.
Renew 71 hopes that “capitalizing off growing momentum around [the] Obama Presidential Center and other Jackson Park/South Shore investments” will attract businesses to South Shore’s struggling business corridor, according to its website.
Hairston says the redevelopment is needed because the 2008 recession took a toll on 71st Street, leaving many of its storefronts currently vacant. “We lost some businesses in the market crash, so we’re trying to get that back,” Hairston said.
A planned movie theater and restaurant complex, as well as new development slated for the nearby Jeffrey Plaza shopping center, are expected to offer an anchor for new businesses.
Hairston’s redevelopment plans come in the wake of controversy earlier this year over her attempt to rezone 71st Street as residential. At the time, Hairston argued that rezoning would prevent businesses tied to crime from reopening after being shut down.
“These are businesses that sell drugs out of them, businesses that let gangbangers hang around outside of them, businesses that sell illegal cigarettes to minors. Businesses that pose a danger to citizens walking outside them in the street,” Hairston told the Maroon.
But many of Hairston’s constituents felt otherwise.
After South Shore residents raised concerns about the barriers rezoning would pose to new development and the increased power it would grant the Alderman, Hairston pulled the ordinance.
This time around, Hairston says, she’s integrating residents into the redevelopment process. “We’re working with local residents to get the kind of businesses they want to see,” she said. “It’s a community effort, and I think that’s very positive.”
Resident reactions to the new plans for 71st Street have been enthusiastic.
“Finally! It’s about time,” Heidi Sommer, a South Shore resident, wrote in response to the news on the Facebook group Reclaiming South Shore for All. “Let's go a step further and lure the right investors toward 75th as well.”
The redevelopment work is expected to be a long-term project. Campbell has said it could take a decade or more to turn 71st Street around.
Still, Hairston said, “People are excited. I’m excited.”