A partnership from the Auburn Gresham neighborhood was announced on Thursday as the winner of the $10 million Chicago Prize, an effort to help revitalize disinvested communities in the city.
The winning team includes the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), Green Era, Urban Growers Collective and New Pisgah Community Service Organization.
WBEZ reached Carlos Nelson, executive director of the GAGDC, as he shared the news with his team. They cheered and clapped as they watched the video of the announcement together.
“I wish my grandparents were here to see this,” said Nelson, whose grandparents moved into the neighborhood 57 years ago. “I’m just thankful that the seniors that have persevered and maintained are here to see the fruits of their labor, so that our kids can see hope and development and growth right here in Auburn Gresham.”
Nelson added that the prize comes at an opportune time for his neighborhood, which has lost nearly 70 residents to COVID-19.
“In the midst of this pandemic, we are bringing health and healthy living and healthy lifestyles to a community that was ravaged by COVID-19,” said Nelson, who added that he has “walked these streets in Auburn Gresham my entire life.”
The groups dubbed their proposal “Always Growing, Auburn Gresham.” The project aims to revitalize a long-vacant 79th Street office building into a healthy lifestyle hub; convert a nine-acre vacant brownfield into a renewable energy and urban farming campus; and repurpose a former school into affordable housing, job training, and business incubation center.
The $10 million prize, issued by the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, is a grant designed to “catalyze economic opportunity and improve the well-being of residents.” (WBEZ receives funding from the foundation.) The announcement was made on the foundation’s website.
“The Pritzker Traubert Foundation is dedicated to trying to make life in Chicago better … in partnering with people and organizations that are doing work primarily on the South and West Side of Chicago,” Bryan Traubert said in the video while sitting alongside Penny Pritzker, his wife and co-founder of the philanthropic organization.
“One of the biggest challenges we have in Chicago is not everyone has the same opportunity, and that’s one of the great purposes of the Pritzker Traubert Foundation,” Pritzker said.
WBEZ receives funding from the foundation, and Traubert serves as board chair for Chicago Public Media.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also appeared in the video to extend congratulations to the winner and all the teams in the competition. “All of you have created community development projects that have captivated our city,” Lightfoot said. “We are beyond grateful for your ideas, ambition and motivation to engage with, and invest in, your communities.”
The foundation received more than 80 submissions. Last December, the foundation announced six finalists, all coalitions of organizations with deep roots on the South and West sides. In addition to Auburn Gresham, the finalists represented Austin, North Lawndale, Little Village, Englewood and South Chicago.
The foundation also committed an additional $2.5 million of matching funds to support the other five finalists’ plans.
“We were so impressed with the finalists’ proposals,” said foundation president Cindy Moelis in the video announcement. “We truly believe in all of these finalist teams and their ability to execute on their plan.”
The finalists proposed a variety of projects: building a new community performing arts center, creating more affordable housing, and even turning an empty fire station into a commercial kitchen.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.