City, Chicago State reveal $250 million plan to remake 95th Street

Credit: Department of Planning & Development

Credit: Department of Planning & Development

Chicago State University has shown its hand on a promise to redevelop part of its campus and the surrounding region.

The South Side university unveiled its new economic development plan reimagining the half-mile stretch of 95th Street between Martin Luther King Drive and Cottage Grove Avenue — one with no official funds to back up a $250 million price tag.

The plan, which was shown at a community meeting Monday night, is a collaboration between CSU and the Department of Planning & Development "to create an inclusive, place-based vision for 95th Street," according to a letter from Mayor Brandon Johnson that leads the study document.

The report was funded by The Chicago Community Trust. 

The economic plan centers investment into the commercial corridor that will impact the surrounding communities using the South Side institution as an anchor development to guide future investment.

Four potential development sites were detailed, including multistory mixed-use buildings, three on the CSU campus and one on a vacant 7,000-square-foot lot on the corridor's north side. The plan calls for the development of 35,000-45,000 square feet of commercial space for academic and retail use, as well as student and family housing. 

The project is estimated to cost $250 million, according to officials at the meeting, but no funds have been secured for the project as of yet. The Planning & Development Department and CSU established a memorandum of understanding agreement in 2020.

Credit: Department of Planning & Development

Credit: Department of Planning & Development

"We're asking local, state and federal governments, we're asking the private sector and we're asking the philanthropy to continue to invest in Chicago State University and the 95th Street corridor, which will result in the development of a first-class university village that bolsters community well being that we all deserve," said CSU President Zaldwaynaka "Z" Scott.

"We worked with Chicago State on this plan, and they do have a large need for housing. So (it's) really a big opportunity and sort of a public-private partnership to develop some of these housing and retail spaces," said Jasmine Gunn, city planner of the Far South Side region for the DPD.

The vision for the sites also includes access to green spaces and a coffee shop that connects from a school bookstore.

The nearly $3.6 billion Red Line extension project and $45 million modernization project for the Metra 95th Street stop were heavily referenced during the night's meeting — both are blocks away from the campus. 

"With the Red Line extension underway, the Metra redesign, burgeoning development and new attractions, the future will be really bright. And it's so exciting to see a public educational institution at the heart of this kind of transformational plan," Andrea Sáenz, president of The Chicago Community Trust, said during the meeting at the school's Gwendolyn Brooks Library. 

The study references the University of Chicago Arts Incubator at 301 E. Garfield Blvd. for being a "dynamic hub of exploration that centers people of color" and Northtown Library Apartments in West Ridge as a relevant project example.

According to the document, recent, ongoing and planned investments for the area total over $4.5 billion. They include the $19 million Discover Customer Care Center in Chatham, investments into Metra's 95th Street as a "gateway to CSU" and the $35 million Pullman National Monument that opened in 2021.

Ald. William Hall, 6th, who was also in attendance, detailed his experience traveling to Evanston and envisioning life at Northwestern. He explained that the study allows the same investment into the area near Chicago State. 

"We are excited today to see what the future of the South Side will look like with Chicago State as the anchor. We have a five-star university right here on the South Side of Chicago, leading statistics that can just literally bring so much joy to us," he said.

According to the study, Chicago State generates $1.6 billion to the state's economy annually. The majority of the school's students come from surrounding neighborhoods and it is the only public university in Illinois with a majority-Black student body.

Community resident Eli Washington said that though he was impressed with the presentation, he wanted more details.

"I am concerned, they're putting a lot of emphasis around the Metra station, which is a concern for me; it is definitely something that's needed, but I don't know if it's gonna have the biggest bang for the buck," said Washington, who serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Chesterfield Community Council. 

Washington said he supports the idea of using the school as an anchor but thinks that a commercial corridor is just as important. 

"I look at places like the University of Chicago and Northwestern, which is the anchor, and I do think that the community or the school can be more open. But I would like to see more of a commercial anchor more than anything else because people always talk about there's a food desert, so some type of a grocery store, or just some type of office structure that's willing to locate on the South Side of Chicago."

Washington said he's heard promises for the last 20 years on investing in the corridor but is hopeful as CSU President Scott is "putting the right pieces together."

A virtual "public kick-off meeting" for a related city project to redevelop 95th Street from Halsted to Cottage Grove is scheduled for Nov. 1 at 6 p.m.

A previous version of this story falsely attributed the report to a $1 million planning grant to the DPD and CTA.

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