Roseland’s South Michigan Avenue Commercial District is the commercial center and heart of this Far South Side community. Once referred to by local residents as “The Avenue,” the street’s vibrancy as began to deteriorate and fade in the mid-1970s. A significant number of historic buildings along South Michigan Avenue in Roseland have been lost over the past 50 years, and much of what remains is in fair to poor condition. Without the necessary investment and maintenance, the surviving historic buildings are at risk of demolition by neglect.
With 300,000 visitors expected to visit the nearby Pullman National Monument annually, Chicago has an extraordinary opportunity for strategic investment in the commercial corridor to revitalize the remaining historic buildings and develop vacant lots so that they complement that historic character. The corridor extends from 100th Street and 115th Street, with the central core of the existing commercial district located between 110th and 115th Streets.
Since 2014, Preservation Chicago has worked closely with the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale and other community partners to conduct neighborhood surveys and tours. In the summer of 2019, Roseland community members and Preservation Chicago conducted an extensive electronic survey of buildings and parcels along Michigan Avenue through a survey initiative of Preservation Chicago.
The survey initiative objective was to assess the buildings that remained along the corridor and to develop a plan to stabilize and revitalize those with historic character. Out of the 602 parcels surveyed by volunteers, surveyors noted that 124 buildings had historic character. Approximately 30 historic properties were identified as in good or excellent condition by volunteer surveyors, which could be inspirational for other historic buildings along the commercial corridor.
PlaceEconomics, a national organization that conducts local preservation impact studies, notes that historic preservation is an excellent tool to stimulate commercial revitalization. Heritage tourism increases property values, creates jobs and promotes greater incomes in the jobs created. Investing in historic buildings has proven to create more positive economic impact than other available strategies. PlaceEconomics’ research has determined that “heritage tourists” spend more for lodging, transportation, food/beverage, retail purchases, and recreation as compared to average tourists.
It is time to use historic preservation as an economic development driver along South Michigan Avenue in Roseland. Of the original 17 buildings listed on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, only 12 remain today. Without swift and effective investment, the deterioration and demolition will continue.
Sadly, during the course of planning and surveying properties along South Michigan Avenue, the iconic Gately’s People’s Store was lost to fire in June 2019, another reminder of the fragility of these buildings and the urgency to develop effective strategies for revitalization. We have identified least 12 historic buildings in the commercial corridor that are in extremely vulnerable condition. In February 2020, two historic structures along South Michigan Avenue were lost to emergency demolitions due to life safety and public safety concerns.
First priority should focus on the preservation of existing historic structures and legacy businesses. Beautiful facades are obscured beneath subsequent remodeling. The restoration of these historic buildings along South Michigan Avenue has the potential to inspire and catalyze a wider revitalization along the commercial corridor.
“We realize this kind of transformation will take time, but Roseland is ready to start now,” said Andrea Reed, Executive Director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce.