Katanya Raby’s family keeps bugging her about a new half-acre park on the city’s Far South Side.
That’s because when POP! Heights Park opens Oct. 29, it will be the first new park in 50 years on the portion of South Halsted Street running through the Washington Heights, Morgan Park, West Pullman and Roseland neighborhoods.
“I’m really excited to be able to share this with people that I love and the rest of this community that desperately needs this sort of love and attention,” said Raby, director of planning for the Far South Community Development Corp, which partnered with Sheldon Heights Church of Christ on the park project.
The nonprofit hopes to get a big boost in helping the area as a contender for the Pritzker Traubert Foundation’s $10 million Chicago Prize 2022.
Far South is one of six finalists — all nonprofits with projects on the city’s South and West sides.
The prize money is part of a larger $30 million commitment by the foundation to increase development over the next three years on the South and West sides.
The foundation plans to announce the winner in December.
Far South wants to use the money to help support its $132.8 million Bringing Communities Back Initiative, which would provide more housing and minority-owned retail in a 22-acre area along South Halsted in Greater Roseland.
Its five projects would span from 99th and Halsted up to about 122nd and Halsted to populate a stretch that is frequently traveled, but has been desolate of businesses for years, said Abraham Lacy, president of Far South.
The largest project would be Morgan Park Commons at the northwest corner of 115th and Halsted, which would alone take up about 500,000 square feet. It is set to be a mixed-use housing development with 20,000 square feet of retail space and a park.
“When you have that level of vacancy, especially in high-impact locations, it tends to depreciate the neighborhood to a point in terms of not only nearby property but also when it comes to amenities,” Lacy said. “Right now, we’re seeing such a major deficit in a lot of normalized amenities like housing or grocery or health care. … It leads to poor outcomes in the community.”
The nonprofit’s leaders said the plan is not simply to build structures. The group wants to help walk residents through buying homes, as well as avoiding problems, such as foreclosure. Far South also would provide education to aspiring and current business owners.
“We want to make sure that those who have lived in this community for so long have the tools and resources they need to take advantage of the opportunities that we’re providing,” said Florence Hardy, the nonprofit’s chief development and innovation officer.
It’s also focused, Lacy said, on providing amenities the community is lacking, like sit-down restaurants and grocery stores, instead of what’s already available, like gas stations and hair salons.
The prize money also would be used to hire minority contractors, provide an additional 35 single-family homes and open an office and retail space along with the Fernwood Entertainment District, which would include restaurants, art galleries and a performance space.
The Chicago Sun-Times receives funding from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.
Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.