Chicago’s southland is open for business! - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago’s southland is open for business!

This was the trending tagline at Opportunities for Investment in Chicago’s Southland, an event that brought together some of the region’s biggest players in planning and development to discuss new tools that encourage investment. Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and its partners—the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago Community Loan Fund, Enterprise Chicago and South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA)—came together to promote the south suburbs as an exciting place to live, work and play during this lively half-day session.

Over 160 municipalities, developers and investors heard MPC’s MarySue Barrett and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle introduce several tools that further accentuate the many assets of the south suburbs. MarySue highlighted the power of collaboration—over $34 million of coordinated private, public and philanthropic investment has gone to the area thus far—and the need to continue partnering across sectors to achieve greater economic development.

President Preckwinkle’s keynote address described Cook County initiatives to support investment in the area, including the Cook County Land Bank Authority (see MPC’s post on it here) and $30 million BUILT in Cook Fund that will provide revolving loans to transit-oriented developments, cargo-oriented development and mixed-use, service sector projects. She stressed that the Southland is a great place for the County to work because SSMMA, the South Cook Housing Collaborative, the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority and the Southland Community Development Loan Fund—all of which work together—are effective partners for the County.

Andy Geer, Vice President of Enterprise Community Partners Chicago, led a panel that painted an exciting picture of what the south suburbs could become. Mayor Paul Braun of Flossmoor and Mayor John Ostenburg of Park Forest offered the canvas by describing the area’s many assets, including acres of land and a stock of vacant buildings awaiting transformation, all accessibly located along transit lines and in communities populated by trained workers.

David Block, Director of Planning at The Community Builders, highlighted the benefits of catalytic projects in transit-adjacent areas that can act as visual anchors and inspiration for further development. His work in Bronzeville on Shops & Lofts at 47 (currently in development) will not only provide mixed-income housing, but also will create 150 permanent jobs—a development model that Block feels is applicable in both urban and suburban settings. Peter Holsten, founder of the Holsten Corporations, highlighted his experience redeveloping Whistler Crossing in Riverdale. He emphasized the ease of working with smaller municipalities, in particular because of their highly accessible staff. As Holsten emphasized, there are still barriers to redevelopment, such as taxes and public attitudes towards affordable housing and transit-oriented development, which deserve the attention of the developer and municipal and civic stakeholders in the room.

While the Mayors stressed the valuable assets of the south suburbs and the developers highlighted the key benefits of working with south suburban communities, Calvin Holmes, Executive Director of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, and Adam Dotson, Oak Forest Community Development Director and member of the South Suburban Land Bank Board of Directors, provided additional details on two exciting tools for developers: the Southland Community Development Loan Fund and the South Suburban Land Bank Authority. Holmes highlighted how the loan fund is providing loan products—predevelopment and acquisition loans—that are necessary for successful development yet hard to receive from traditional financing institutions. The Loan Fund, a long-term capital source that has below-market interest rates and is concerned with maximizing social impact rather than profit, will finance affordable and mixed-use developments near transit. Dotson presented a case for how municipalities can use the land bank to tap into an expertise and capacity they may not have on staff to clear title or taxes and undertake environmental clean-up. He noted that developers can utilize the land bank to keep their acquisition and holding costs down during the predevelopment phase. Both Holmes and Dotson explained that these two tools can get developers over the largest barriers that prevent redevelopment: accessible capital, legal concerns and acquisition and holding costs.

After the speakers and panel, developers and municipalities were given the opportunity to meet and discuss opportunities to partner on development projects. MPC is hopeful that the momentum flowing from this event and the attention paid to these issues in this important part of our region don’t stop here!

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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