Rosenwald building closer to redevelopment

Residents debate rehab of the historic building and effects on neighborhood’s density, retail

July 11, 2012

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(Flickr/SilverRaven7)
Bronzeville's Rosenwald building has sat empty for a decade.

The vacant Rosenwald apartment complex on 47th and Michigan is likely getting a serious makeover.

On Tuesday the city community development commission voted in favor of allowing a redevelopment of the building to go forward. The plan, which still needs city council approval, would include affordable housing.

The Rosenwald building’s the size of a city block and it’s been empty for 12 years.

Landwhite Developers is overhauling Rosenwald to the tune of $110 million. The rehabbed structure would largely comprise senior and family housing, including a total of 331 units and retail on the first level. Construction for Rosenwald’s new incarnation is targeted for the end of this year with the first units becoming available in October 2013.

Rosenwald is not just an apartment building — it’s a slice of Bronzeville’s history. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, developed the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments in 1929. The courtyard building attracted many black families who came to Chicago during the Great Migration. Eventually, the building took on the namesake of its developer. Several African-American icons called it home, including musician Quincy Jones, singer Nat King Cole, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and boxer Joe Louis.

Many residents in the Bronzeville neighborhood said they’re happy the historic building will get used once again, given that it sat idle for a decade. But some area homeowners said they worry the development includes too little retail. They also expressed concern about the arrival of low-income tenants.

Jonese Burnett is a homeowner who lives near Rosenwald.

“Obviously, there’s very high density,” Burnett said. “It’s not that we don’t want working families … with the lack of resources we have, we’d like to see more mixed-use for the property. We’d like to see commercial development."

Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said the term "affordable" doesn’t equal low income.

There are no housing vouchers or subsidies being used for the 331 units. Families will have incomes between $20,000-$50,000. The first floor of the new Rosenwald will be 21,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

Dowell and some other residents see Rosenwald as a way to jumpstart more economic vitality on 47th Street.