Auburn Gresham Project Wins $10 Million Prize From Charitable Foundation

AUBURN GRESHAM — A plan to bring sustainable industry and health services to Auburn Gresham is the winner of the $10 million Chicago Prize from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, its leaders announced Thursday.

Two projects — a “healthy lifestyle hub” at 839-845 W. 79th St. and a renewable energy and urban farm campus at 650 W. 83rd St. — were included in the winning submission.

The project was developed by the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, and nonprofits Urban Growers Collective and Green Era Partners.

“Those of us who have been in this community have worked really hard and maintained hope that transformation … was on the horizon,” said Carlos Nelson, CEO of the development corporation.

“This infusion of $10 million really catalyzes and increases our hope.”

The healthy lifestyle hub includes:

A rendering of the healthy lifestyle hub.PROVIDED

The development will be located in a building that hosted a furniture store and a state agency for decades, but has been vacant since 2000.

Construction is estimated to be fully underway by 2021, with tenants moving into the building by the first quarter of 2022, Nelson said.

The construction of a Metra station at 79th Street and Lowe Avenue — just blocks from the lifestyle hub — will complement the project, Nelson said.

The future home of the healthy lifestyle hub in June 2019.GOOGLE MAPS

The renewable energy and urban farm campus will bring a food waste recycler, greenhouses and an outdoor marketplace to the neighborhood.

Construction is scheduled to finish in 2022, followed by a three-year “ramping up” period before the campus’ programs are fully operational.

An estimated 85,000 tons of food waste will be recycled through an anaerobic digester, which heats up and decomposes the waste to produce fuel. At full strength, the digester will generate 51 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy to supply the local natural gas grid.

The leftover compost from the digester will be used to create nutrient-rich soil for the urban farm. The farm is expected to produce up to 26,000 pounds of food, which will be used to supply the marketplace, the Fresh Moves Mobile Markets program, and South and West Side restaurants.

The campus was a Chicago Police Department impound lot for 50 years but has been dormant since 2010.

The Chicago Prize will fund one-fifth of the project’s estimated $52.8 million price tag, with additional funding coming from CARES Act allocations and other public and private backers.

The prize funds will help bring “equitable access to health care” to Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood that was the site of the first coronavirus-related death in Illinois and grapples with the “longstanding effects” of neglect, Nelson said.

“(The funding) allows us as minority-led community organizations to do the hands-on development projects within our community. We’re taking vacant lots and taking vacant buildings and rebuilding them ourselves,” Nelson said.

Both projects will create an array of jobs in the community, from high-level engineering and mechanical positions to entry-level composting and farming positions, Green Era Partners co-founder Jason Feldman said.

The healthy lifestyle hub and sustainable industry campus can be an “economic driver for the community” as supporting businesses pop up around the projects, Feldman said.

The Pritzker Traubert Foundation also announced Thursday it would match contributions from other funders interested in supporting the other five Chicago Prize finalists’ projects, up to $2.5 million in total.

“Our goal is not just to put our capital in, but also to encourage and bring to light the opportunities that exist in these communities,” co-founder Penny Pritzker said.

In December, finalists received $100,000 to continue developing their plans. They included:

The Chicago Prize is “the beginning” of the foundation’s commitment to supporting Black and Brown-led developments on the South and West sides, co-founder Bryan Traubert said.

“Over the past months and years, it’s become clear: We’re going to make it together, or we’re not going to make it,” Traubert said.

The prize “is not a panacea; this is a small project that can be a catalyst to much bigger things.”