Finally, LeClaire Courts’ replacement looks real


The timeline of major events in the history of the LeClaire Courts social housing site on the southwest side does not inspire confidence that good things can happen there. And yet, this appears to be the case after years of inattention and indecision on the part of the site’s owner, the Chicago Housing Authority.

The CHA partnered with savvy developers who spent around three years making plans and garnering political and community support for them.

On Zoom, there was a final public meeting on the project last week led by Ald. Michel Rodriguez (22sd), and it was painless for the developers, Cabrera Capital and Habitat. Lo and behold, their plans for a mixed-income housing development with commercial space were on the agenda for the Chicago Planning Commission meeting on Thursday.

A favorable vote paves the way for City Council action, likely in November. Martin Cabrera Jr., CEO of Cabrera Capital, said he hopes to start construction on the first phase in the first half of 2022 and complete it in 12 to 18 months. The later phases could take years, but it’s a start.

Cabrera and Habitat had a tricky job as the site, along Cicero Avenue just south of Stevenson Highway, carries a lot of luggage. It is approximately 32 vacant acres running south of the highway at 45e Street, and it looks like a park now, but in 1950 it was the site of a noble experiment.

The CHA used it for townhouses to house poor African Americans in an outskirts of town that was then all white. The hope was that everyone would get along, but there was little interaction with the well-groomed middle-class communities around LeClaire – named, according to a story from the Chicago Park District, of Antoine LeClaire, a trader. of furs who traveled here with John Kinzie in 1809..

LeClaire Courts operated for a while but fell apart over the years. Vacant units and police calls proliferated, and many neighbors just wished it was gone. The units were a prime example of a plague along Cicero Avenue, a road which, with the growth of Midway Airport, has seen an increase in traffic.

Bedford Park saw its chance and built a veritable hotel mall just south of Midway. The city blew it away. In 2005, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration produced a document discussing the challenges and potential of the corridor, but there was no follow-up.

Martin Cabrera Jr.
Sun-Times Files

Eventually, the CHA gave up – officially anyway – and demolished the LeClaire Courts in 2011. Two years later, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning released a study for the CHA, concluding that the site could better accommodate a mix of residential and commercial uses and that Bedford Park had cornered the hotel market.

Cabrera follows this guideline. It plans an investment of more than $ 400 million that would include 700 housing units and targets around half of them as affordable by city rules, well above the requirements of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

With CHA retaining a stake in this venture, the plan calls for 186 housing units to replace units lost in the demolition of LeClaire. But so much time has passed that most of the people who lived there will not come back. A CHA spokesperson said 28 families remain on the waiting list for this development.

The first phase envisions two mid-rise buildings along Cicero containing around 190 units, Cabrera said.

For the neighbors, the biggest news is that they may no longer live in a wasteland of health care and food.

Alivio Medical Center is planning a clinic at the site, and Cabrera said it more than doubled its demand for space to 50,000 square feet because two hospital networks applied to participate.

Cabrera also said it has a leading grocery store ready to commit to building 60,000 square feet. Both would also be first phase projects.

The hope is to build something that will complement a neighborhood that has become more diverse. It could also boost investment elsewhere along Cicero.

“It’s really exciting, the rebirth of Cicero Avenue,” Rodriguez said during the Zoom session. He called the project “the most significant development on the southwest side in a generation.”

Cabrera said the employment impact is around 1,400, half permanent and half in construction. “We know this will be a transformative development for the Southwest Side,” he said.

It’s a big talk for any real estate transaction, but the enthusiasm is understandable. In town, it is a rare vacant lot under the control of a single owner. Progress decades late.

LeClaire Courts as he was in 1963.

LeClaire Courts as he was in 1963.
Sun-Times Files

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