One of America’s largest cities will likely get a massive injection of new development because one of America’s most venerable evangelical Bible schools has found a “higher and better use” of some of its now-unused land.
Chicago City Council’s Zoning Committee just gave unanimous approval to a $1.3 billion proposal that calls for a dozen new buildings -- including several high-rises -- to occupy 8.1 acres of land formerly owned by nearby Moody Bible Institute.
That vote puts the North Union project one final council vote away from approval for local developer JDL, with plans for the now mostly vacant property to unify several surrounding neighborhoods -- including Gold Coast and the former Cabrini-Green -- around 2,656 residential units, 30,000 square feet of commercial space, and 2.5 acres of public open space.
The plan calls for completion by phases from 2023 through 2029. Check out this piece from Chicago Architecture for the timeline and colorful renderings of the proposed buildings.
'A big hole in the doughnut'
"This is a big hole in the doughnut. It's been that way because Moody Bible controlled this land for many years but now finds there is a higher and better use," Jim Letchinger, founder and CEO of JDL Development, said in this report from Urbanize Chicago.
The massive development is being hailed both as a serious vote of confidence in the Windy City and a milestone in the continued gentrification of what had been some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
Along with gentrification, the plan also includes a nod to the need for affordable housing. At least 10% of the new residential units must be designated for households earning no more than 60% of the area’s median income, or $55,920 for a family of four.
The North Union project also was praised in multiple media reports for its collaborative nature, examples of which included expanding the green space after input at public meetings.
The Millionacres bottom line
“This is probably one of the most optimistic developments that I’ve seen since my time here. I think it comes at a really critical moment for the city as we imagine coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, so to know that there is this confidence in the future of Chicago bodes incredibly well for us all,” Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox told the city’s Plan Commission before it unanimously endorsed the development on May 20, according to WTTW News.
That kind of confidence in the core of what is rapidly transforming from an area nationally known for urban blight to what could become an example of collaborative urban renewal is encouraging anytime, but particularly during the pandemic’s recovery.
It also shows that it’s not just Sun Belt and midsize cities that will benefit from this recovery. Chicago is flexing its big shoulders once again, and real estate investors of all kinds can find opportunity in and around such a major development.