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University of Chicago makes financial commitment to South Side

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The University of Chicago and the city have entered into an agreement that calls on the school to be a better South Side neighbor.

The University, located in Hyde Park, has sometimes had a fraught relationship with surrounding neighborhoods. The school is investing more than $1 billion in capital improvements over the next three years and officials say the community will benefit.

In a memorandum of understanding with the city, the university has pledged to make sure contracts and jobs go to people and businesses in the neighborhood. President Robert Zimmer said the university’s committed to using local contractors – as well as women and minority-owned companies.

“We’re part of the South Side of Chicago. It’s important that the community flourish. It’s important in social terms and important for the university. There’s a whole fabric of ways in which this is good for the community and the university,” Zimmer said.

The memo also outlines ways the University of Chicago can foster economic growth on the South Side. That includes improving a Metra commuter line and developing properties along Garfield Boulevard. A few years ago the university started buying up property in Washington Park. Residents, politicians and community organizers were disappointed that the university didn’t reveal its plans before purchasing land.

Decades ago, the University of Chicago supported restrictive covenants that kept blacks out of the surrounding neighborhoods of Woodlawn, Washington Park and North Kenwood. That history still haunts some in those communities.

But Zimmer said the university wants to being a good neighbor. In recent years, the school has invested tens of millions of dollars locally.

“We don’t claim to have everything perfect but we are making a major effort,” Zimmer said. “We’ve been working very hard on the relationship with the community. An important approach we’ve been taking is building a set of partnerships with the aldermen, community organizations and really understand the work we do in the community is a partnership between community and university.”

For its part, the city says it will ease the red tape that impedes the projects.

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