What is the City of Chicago’s INVEST South/West Initiative?

October 01, 2021

In her FY2022 budget address, Mayor Lori Lightfoot highlighted the public and private economic development investments that have been made through the INVEST South/West initiative. For those unfamiliar with the program, this blog provides a quick summary of its goals and intended impact.

INVEST South/West Initiative

On October 21, 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new initiative called INVEST South/West, which is a community improvement project focused on developing commercial and residential areas in 10 communities on the South and West sides of Chicago. The program combines the efforts of City departments, community organizations, corporations and philanthropic organizations and will direct $250 million in public funding to those communities over three years in addition to $500 million in already planned programs and infrastructure improvements. The goals of the program include revitalizing commercial corridors, improving transportation and building affordable housing with a goal of galvanizing private development throughout the community. Local advisory panels made up of community members, business leaders and public officials are tasked with helping direct investments based on community needs.

BMO Harris Bank alone contributed $10 million to the INVEST South/West initiative through United Way of Metro Chicago to invest in the Austin neighborhood. Davis Casper, CEO of BMO Harris Bank believes that people need to feel comfortable in their neighborhoods in order to bank and live comfortably within the city.

In order to choose which neighborhoods to include in the initiative, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) analyzed data[1] on commercial or business uses, and a variety of city department sources throughout the South and West sides of the city.

There are 12 key commercial corridors in the 10 communities that this initiative will support in revitalization and development. The 10 communities are: Auburn Gresham, Austin, Bronzeville, Greater Englewood, New City, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, Greater Roseland, South Chicago and South Shore. The City of Chicago says the 10 communities were targeted[2] for the INVEST South/West Initiative because the City wanted to reactivate neighborhood cores that historically served as focal points for pedestrian activity, services, public spaces and quality-of-life amenities for local residents.

How Does INVEST South/West Work?

Some of the key developments for the 10 communities on the South and West sides are being selected through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process. Development teams and/or nonprofit organizations submit responses to requests for proposals (RFP) for specific sites,[3] which are properties the City describes as key and underutilized. Thus far, seven projects have been selected through the RFP process and four of those seven projects were developed by the minority-led development teams[4] that won the second round of Invest South/West projects in August 2021. The four projects are projected to create more than 215 residential units, 40,000 square feet of commercial space and approximately 900 permanent and temporary jobs on commercial corridor sites in New City, Bronzeville, North Lawndale, and South Chicago.

The other three projects that won RFPs in the first round of Invest South/West projects back in March 2021 are: Evergreen Imagine, Austin United Alliance and Englewood Connect. Developments in these neighborhoods include transforming the 34,000-square-foot Laramie State Bank in Austin into a blues museum, bank branch, café and business incubator. Englewood Connect will readapt the Green Street fire station into a “commercial kitchen” and business incubator in the Greater Englewood area. Evergreen Imagine will be building a mixed-use complex that will include 56 affordable housing units in Auburn Gresham. Almost all of the seven projects that won development proposals will provide affordable housing units, market-rate units, cultural amenities, and several commercial spaces for businesses to thrive. Several more RFPs for sites in Humboldt Park, South Shore and North Lawndale.

This initiative will be supported by community-based organizations[5]  to help coordinate ongoing public and private investments along the targeted neighborhood commercial corridors. A few of the organizations are: Austin African American Business Network, Chatham Business Association, Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce and West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council. These organizations were selected for their experience in managing local economic development activities and having strong relationships with local businesses and property owners. The Chicago office of the Local Initiative Support Corporation LISC) will work with selected management teams to set goals and track their progress. Other pre-existing City programs are also supporting the INVEST South/West program, such as the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and the Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI) program.

INVEST South/West additionally has a cultural component, with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) collaborating with the Department of Planning and Development to launch a pilot Artist-In-Residence Program. The Artist-In-Residence Program[6] is intended to leverage art and creativity to spur further community and economic development in four of the ten communities: Greater Englewood, Auburn Gresham, New City and Austin. The four selected artists/teams were announced in November 2020 and are to work directly within neighborhood plans to deliver a capstone public art project and recommendations to guide future creative projects in the area.

The Potential Impact on Chicago

Chicago Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox has said that he believes the INVEST South/West initiative will positively impact future planning as well as the communities themselves by reversing Chicago’s typical top-down neighborhood planning by instead involving community members in choosing the types of businesses and investments they would like to see in their communities. Cox is hoping the program will encourage private investors and developers to invest in underserved communities across the City and participate in community development that focuses on residents of the ten neighborhoods.

The deadline for the INVEST South/West Initiative is set to end in 2022. Whether or not the initiative is successful will determine if it will be ongoing. Currently, there are five Requests for Proposals[7] that are still under review through the Department of Planning and Development. Its success will be measured by whether it is able to catalyze development in the ten communities in a way that previous economic development programs, such as Tax Increment Financing, have not.

[1] City of Chicago, INVEST South/West. Available https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/invest_sw/home/about.html

[2] City of Chicago, INVEST South/West, “Priority Community Areas.” Available at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/invest_sw/home.html

[3] City of Chicago, INVEST South/West, “Requests for Proposals.” Available at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/invest_sw/home/requests-for-proposals.html

[4] City of Chicago, “Mayor Lightfoot Announces An Additional $200 Million In Planned Investments for Invest South/West Commercial Corridors.” August 23, 2021. Available at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2021/august/InvestSouthWestPlannedInvestments.html

[5] City of Chicago, “City Selects Corridor Managers to Help Revitalize INVEST South/West Corridors.” October 23, 2020. Available at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dcd/provdrs/planning_and_policydivision/news/2020/october/city-selects-corridor-managers-to-help-revitalize-invest-south-w.html

[6] City of Chicago, “Mayor Lightfoot, DCASE And DPD Announce Artist-In-Residence Opportunity for INVEST South/West Communities.” July 1, 2020. Available at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2020/july/AristInResidenceOpportunity.html

[7] City of Chicago, INVEST South/West, “Requests for Proposals.” Available at https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/invest_sw/home/requests-for-proposals.html