Chicago’s South Side is reinventing itself through mega-developments like the Bronzeville Lakefront.
This is going to be a global hub for innovation of wellness rooted in the rich heritage of its multicultural community. It is located on the iconic shores of Lake Michigan, which makes it very appealing to access new residential and commercial opportunities, parks and trails, and community spaces.
Now let’s get down to business.
Bronzeville Lakefront is a $7 billion redevelopment project of 100+ acre redevelopment of the former Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center site. This is a new mixed-use health innovation district featuring iconic architecture, cutting-edge design, and world-class amenities.
Through a Request for Proposal, the City chose GRIT, a group of local developers, to purchase and develop the land in 2017. GRIT (Global Research Innovation Technology) is a diverse group of partners with expansive experience and deep community ties. Farpoint Development, Loop Capital Management, McLaurin Development Partners, Draper & Kramer, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, and Bronzeville Community Development Partnership are among the companies that make up GRIT.
Before we discuss the Bronzeville Lakefront development process, let’s first delve into the history of Bronzeville.
Bronzeville's past is integral to Chicago's legacy, uniting the Douglas, Grand Boulevard, and Oakland areas on the city's south side.
Bronzeville gained a reputation as the "Black Metropolis" in the early 1900s, with one of the country's densest concentrations of African-American enterprises. One of these was the Pekin Theatre, which opened in 1905 at 27th Street and was the first black-owned musical and vaudeville stock theatre in the United States.
Thousands of Black Americans fled the persecution of the South and came to Chicago in search of industrial jobs between 1910 and 1920, during an early peak of the "Great Migration." The Wabash YMCA is the first Black YMCA in the United States, and it is still operational today because of continued sponsorship from local Black churches. Black History Month began as a project of the Wabash YMCA to honor black culture.
At the time, the south lakefront was little more than a dumping place. The city's public lakefront, which is one of a kind in the world, is perhaps the Plan of Chicago's most cherished legacy. Inspiring examples of public lake shorelines, popular bathing beaches, and peaceful inland lagoons might be found in Lincoln and Jackson Parks. The Plan emphasized, "The LakeFront by Right Belongs to the People."
Daniel Burnham drew a network of peninsulas and offshore islands that would support a parkway and provide cover for new lagoons. Although landfill operations had already spread in Lincoln and Grant Parks, Burnham pointed out that the city was dumping one million cubic yards of pure fill into the lake every year—mostly ashes from coal-burning boilers and earth taken for basements. If dumped close to the shore, it would result in more than 20 acres of landfill. Park authorities eagerly adopted this idea in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Plan of Chicago's fame stems from the high profile of Burnham and the Commercial Club, the eloquence of the Plan's prose style, the splendor of Guerin's and Janin's drawings, and the energy of Wacker and Moody.
The Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center closed its doors in 2008 after a 128-year stint as one of Chicago's best medical care institutions. Now it is the site of the Bronzeville Lakefront development which seeks to continue Bronzeville's history.
Bronzeville Lakefront, like the famous Michael Reese Hospital, will be a multicultural and inclusive epicenter of innovation. From Health Sciences to BioTech, global health innovators will travel from all over the world to contribute to the hospital's heritage of many "firsts" in medicine and healthcare.
In-person public engagement for this community development began in 2017 and was followed by virtual community meetings in 2020, co-hosted by DPD and Ald. The Michael Reese Advisory Council and King.
Here are the different phases of development in Bronzeville Lakefront
A. Phase One
An initial 13 acres of the Bronzeville Lakefront development will be transformed into a thriving life science community, a mixed-use commercial, office, retail, and community space, and a new park in Phase 1 between 2021 and 2026, with the ultimate goal of creating the healthy community of the future.
a. Chicago ARC Innovation Center
Illinois has the potential to be the center of healthcare. It is one of the top producers of STEM degrees in the country, and it is home to the country's third-largest medical and life science economic engine. According to World Business Chicago, the Chicago region generates $72 billion in annual economic activity and employs about 700,000 people.
The Chicago ARC will nurture new capabilities that build health ventures through access to data, skilled operators, customers, and funding under the guidance of the joint venture team. Healthcare access/affordability, precision medicine, smart medical devices, preventative solutions, biologics, telehealth, and medical technologies are all areas of focus here. It aims to bring sustainable health equity and transformation solutions to the market, driving impact and returns for healthy Chicago.
Included in the Chicago ARC is a data center supporting the health innovation ecosystem. The storage center will power the data processing and cloud-based storage to house the healthcare research and findings.
The Chicago ARC will take a market-based approach and provide high-touch support to grow local and global startups to transform healthcare. Incubator facilities and services, accelerator programs driven by experienced operators and investors, and investment capital will shorten the timeline between scientific discovery and commercial scale. The Chicago ARC facility is set to open in early 2024.
b. Bronzeville Welcoming and Community Center
The Bronzeville Community Center is a 40,000-square-foot facility dedicated to Bronzeville's history. Here visitors can learn the history of the area and hear about cultural landmarks.
The center would be the first stop of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area, a proposed tourism district that would honor the legacy of Black Chicago while creating economic opportunities to cement its future.
c. Senior Housing
The senior housing will encompass approximately 300 units. It will have a mix of units, common spaces, retail stores, cafes, townhomes, and a rooftop deck. Residents will enjoy indoor and outdoor social spaces.
Enjoy the comfort and convenience of a fantastic, low-cost luxury senior community in the heart of Bronzeville.
e. 31st Street Park
31st Street Park will reroute the street network on the large property, reconnecting it to the neighboring community. The restored grid will allow for connectivity and phasing, with the existing Metra station perhaps being relocated to E. 31st St.
The site will be peppered with a number of interconnected open spaces that will encourage connectivity and reintegration into the neighborhood and metropolis. Civic parks are located at E. E. 29th St. and 29th St. A cultural ribbon will run the length of 31st St, operating as a supplementary spine for the complex.
The cultural ribbon will begin at 31st Street Park, which may contain a seasonal plaza and pavilion, natural gardens, and a seasonal plaza and pavilion. Grill and picnic areas, playgrounds, workout areas, garden sitting, and a skateboarding strip are all possible outdoor spaces interspersed amongst new buildings.
f. Renovated Singer Pavilion
The Singer Pavilion, built in 1948, was one of the first postwar structures constructed at the Michael Reese Medical Center campus. It is the only remaining building from the original Michael Reese complex.
Built to house the Reese Psychiatric-Psychosomatic Institute, the pavilion features a southern orientation and the generous use of exterior-mounted sunshades, rather than barred windows like past psychiatric institutions, and patient rooms faced a landscaped park meant to soothe and comfort long-term psychiatric patients. Singer won an AIA award in 1951.
GRIT will reimagine it as the world’s greenest building following the Living Building Challenge’s strict regenerative design protocols.
g. 31st Street Metra Station
Bronzeville Lakefront also includes the relocation of public parks and plazas to 31st Street, the relocation of senior and multi-family homes to the west, and the addition of new residential skyscrapers to the east (where a truck lot currently exists). The 27th Street Metra station will be replaced by a 31st Street Metra station.
B. Phase Two
Phase 2 will cover 6.8 million square feet of development and will run from 2023 to 2041. Life science or healthcare, commercial, office, retail, residential, hospitality, mixed-use, and public open space are all permitted uses in the second phase.
a. Mixed-use Community
GRIT team is creating a diverse, mixed-use community in Bronzeville. Bronzeville Lakefront has reserved 200,000+ square feet in mixed-use retail and office space overlooking natural gardens and beautiful views of the city. We are leasing 10% of the new commercial spaces at 20% below the market rate to facilitate the growth of local small businesses
The public will have full access to the open and green places of the Bronzeville Lakefront. The world-renowned landscape architect Walter Hood of Hood Design Studio, a recognized leader in community-centered design, created these areas.
The community is also designed to be welcoming. In particular, Cottage Grove Avenue, Bronzeville Lakefront’s main street, will become a vibrant, high-traffic area where local and small businesses can thrive with the addition of adequate lighting, outdoor street furniture, and landscaped plazas, and prioritized pedestrian safety using fully designed streets, sidewalks, and intersections. On-street parking and drop-off areas will ensure that the complete streets are welcoming and accessible to all users. The unique street design aesthetic will showcase Bronzeville’s rich history.
b. Mixed-income Housing, with 20% set aside for on-site affordable housing
The GRIT team also wants to proactively support the community's housing needs by allocating 20% of the units under development towards affordable housing. They aim to increase the number of affordable housing units available for residents who are experiencing gentrification and housing insecurity. These homes are apartments and townhomes, including intergenerational living.
Benefits of Bronzeville Lakefront to Chicago
Bronzeville Lakefront is well-received by local residents and the rest of the Chicago community because it offers a lot of benefits, especially in terms of holistic community development.
Here are the things that the Bronzeville Lakefront development gives to Chicago residents:
A. Healthcare Innovation
Bronzeville Lakefront aims to honor the legacy of the Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center by fostering healthcare innovation in the community. The healthcare innovations were anchored by diversity, equity, and inclusion that promote better health outcomes across all communities. In particular, the Chicago ARC will fast-track game-changing health innovation and life science advances.
And in the midst of the pandemic, it has been more crucial than ever to ensure that medical supplies, machines, equipment, and everything needed to accommodate the welfare of the people are up to date and available within Chicago itself.
Bronzeville Lakefront is all about sustainability. This development project, spearheaded by Jason F. McLennan, Bronzeville Lakefront's strategic advisor, is fuelled by the ideology of regeneration. The Bronzeville Lakefront development project will take advantage of the land's natural ecology to create a vibrant, walkable, and livable neighborhood.
All buildings will use eco-friendly materials, solar panels, and rooftop plantings in addition to this unique regeneration plan to promote a healthier environment for all. The increased green spaces will help to improve the neighborhood's air quality and, as a result, its overall quality of life. Bronzeville Lakefront will be walkable, with proximal retail and workspaces interspersed with amenities, open space, and the ever-present Lake Michigan, thanks to a sustainable regenerative design focus.
C. Equitable Development
Bronzeville Lakefront will set new norms for egalitarian, sustainable development and healthy living, driven by a philosophy of regeneration that includes everything from job growth to increased access to open space.
It is a catalyst for inclusive growth, with a commitment to achieve a 30% diversity target for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and a 10% diversity target for Women’s Business Enterprises (WBE). Above and beyond the commitment to achieve 30% MBE participation, the GRIT team has a record-breaking goal of 65% minority participation overall. Supplier diversity is critical to inclusive growth and the GRIT team invites all certification levels, including VBE (veteran businesses), DBE (disadvantaged businesses), and BEDP (differently-abled businesses).
D. Historical Legacy
Around the turn of the century, the Bronzeville neighborhood arose. There had always been African-Americans in Chicago, but until 1870, there were just a few. Despite the fact that segregation was illegal after the Civil War, most African-Americans faced widespread job and housing discrimination. As a result, the fledgling community was forced to settle on a sliver of land on the South Side. On this note, the forefathers of the city would be honored to know that the city they fought for is continuously growing just how they wanted it.
E. Economic Advantages
The Bronzeville Lakefront will stimulate tremendous economic development by creating significant jobs and generating significant revenue through business creation, trade, and industry.
It will offer more than double the 4,000 jobs the Michael Reese Health Center provided for the community. The Bronzeville community will see an 88% increase in jobs—comprising 45,000 direct and indirect construction jobs and 31,000 full-time jobs, totaling 76,000 jobs.
Because of the infusion of growth opportunities offered by the Bronzeville Innovation Center and small neighborhood businesses, restaurants, hospitality, and other retail establishments, the redevelopment project is expected to generate a direct economic impact of $3.8 billion and an indirect economic impact of $4.4 billion, totaling $8.2 billion.
How Bronzeville Lakefront transforms Chicago South Side
Bronzeville Lakefront will pour investments into the long disenfranchised South Side. The GRIT team worked with the local community from the start so that they would create a healthy and inclusive community. It has become the most anticipated mega-development in Chicago because it developed through a public-private partnership, authentic collaboration, and a vision for generational impact.
Bronzeville is a community with rich culture, deep history, and a legacy of excellence and innovation. Bronzeville Lakefront seeks to amplify this neighborhood by creating unparalleled transformational change in the area.