Home(grown) Improvement: Could This Work Here?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a comment a reader made recently regarding what he called “the dichotomy of the two Morgan Parks,” where one part of the neighborhood is seen as more desirable and the other is viewed as less so. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of concrete solutions to better unite the people of our community and help all parts of it thrive. And then I read a story out of Minnesota about a real estate co-op that struck me. Allow me to explain.

A lot about this “dichotomy” is perception, but some of it is real. The eastern part of the neighborhood has been separated by train tracks, highways, dead-end streets and thoroughfares dominated by fast-moving vehicles. Its mixed-use and commercial corridors show signs of age and disinvestment.

Newer development like Marshfield Plaza favors national chains where little of the money stays local while also putting up additional physical barriers in the form of parking lots and overall poor pedestrian planning.

So when I read this article about neighborhood residents banding together to purchase and revitalize vacant buildings, I immediately thought of Morgan Park. The subject of the story is a neighborhood in Minneapolis that had a good number of vacancies in its traditional commercial districts where developers were reluctant to invest. So, residents formed a co-op to purchase the buildings and supported local businesses in the storefronts.

My first thought was, what a great, grassroots way to improve a neighborhood. The money stays in the community and fosters the local economy. Then, I thought of our area, which needs this exact type of investment. Morgan Park’s commercial corridors like 111th and 115th streets have the types of small but solid buildings that can serve as excellent incubators of local businesses. These routes possess the kind of pedestrian-oriented environment, along with good public transportation, that can help businesses thrive.

In Minnesota, locals could buy into the venture for $1,000 and purchase additional classes of stock over time. While an initial $1,000 could be seen as a small investment for some, it could be prohibitive to others. Perhaps initial investments could be made on a sliding scale, or the buy-in threshold could be lowered. There’s no need to copy the method outright. Getting the overall concept would be more important.

The eastern portion of Morgan Park is a neighborhood in search of a center. If investment can occur along the main streets that have served as the backbone of the community, perhaps the area can start to overcome the physical barriers that have cut it off from its neighbors. Plus, the type of teamwork and neighborliness the people of Minneapolis exhibited could serve as a model for our community. Imagine people from all parts of Morgan Park and its neighboring areas coming together to make an investment that could help the local economy. If no one from the outside is going to invest, maybe it’s time we residents step up by starting small.

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5 thoughts on “Home(grown) Improvement: Could This Work Here?

  1. Has there ever been a presentation made to the respective aldermen or the mayors office? Seems to me that their initiative would be imperative. Good ideas with presidents for successes should be welcomed by them !

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  2. The biggest problem I’ve seen with new developments is that rents are often too high for independent businesses, so the spaces either attract large chains or franchises or stay vacant.

    When I lived in Rogers Park, I saw this happen with a large amount of retail space added with the reconstruction of the Howard red line station and the redevelopment of a large parcel immediately to the west. Many of those spaces stayed vacant for years. Some have never been filled. Rents were much higher than any existing or new independent businesses could afford, so it’s all chains and franchises.

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  3. Revitalizing older buildings makes more sense where we have quality buildings available. It keeps rents more affordable for small businesses and is more sustainable environmentally.

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    • I completely agree. While I consider myself a bit of am historic preservationist, it’s as much because we need older buildings for the reason you mention as it is to hang onto our architectural masterpieces. I had breakfast the other day at Beverly Bakery and was thinking of this: An old building that could have easily been demolished was instead saved, spruced up and turned into a thriving business. The building is no architectural wonder, but it’s solid and has a good relation to the street to encourage foot traffic.

      When I lived on the North Side, I noticed the same thing with that Rogers Park development. I’ve got Jane Jacobs on the mind lately, and she always warned of what she called “cataclysmic” development — urban renewal-type projects, and that’s what the Howard station shopping center is. It eliminates the diverse building stock in the neighborhood and requires high rents to succeed. Not that high rents are inherently bad, but when they replace blocks of older buildings in one fell swoop, they can have a negative effect.

      Plus, those types of buildings present huge barriers to redevelopment. It’s much easier to renovate a single smaller building than an entire shopping center. This is what has happened on 95th with the Borders vacancy. I plan on writing about this more, but essentially that block once contained about half a dozen smaller buildings the could have been repurposed one by one by numerous individual owners and created a significant tax base. Instead, they were replaced with a single-sue building and a giant parking lot. Now, we have to wait for someone with the money to come and redevelop that massive parcel.

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