“More than two dozen South Shore neighbors pooled their funds to buy and renovate a blighted apartment building over the last year, offering a model for the neighborhood’s growth they say can benefit existing residents. The cooperatively owned 7051 LLC bought 7051 S. Bennett Ave. for $600,000 in November 2020. The company has since put nearly $300,000 into renovating the property, and its apartments became available for rent this month.
“The 97-year-old building is ‘built like a tank’ with 16 apartments, five storefronts and terra cotta inside and out — ‘one of those ‘they don’t build them like they used to’ kind of buildings,’ its owners said. With access to public facilities like the lakefront, the South Shore Cultural Center and nearby Jackson Park, “there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a stellar place” for a successful community property, investor Stephen Stern said.
“Stern, who’s lived in the area for about 30 years, sees it as an opportunity to ‘bring back 71st Street.’ The project can complement a proposal from developer Alisa Starks — also a Highlands resident — to build an entertainment complex at 71st and Jeffery Boulevard, he said.
“The 27 neighbors who pooled $282,000 upfront for the building’s purchase represent a diverse cross-section of the Jackson Park Highlands, South Shore’s landmark district of estates built on massive lots. All live within several blocks of the Bennett Avenue project.
“De facto project leader Michael Kelley moved to the ‘tight-knit’ community three years ago, and he said the project is a step toward realizing “the South Shore that we should have,” with walkability, amenities and fewer commercial vacancies.
“Geralyn and Art Thompson fell in love with the Highlands as high schoolers, when they’d make ‘big money’ clearing snow from the district’s big houses. The husband and wife moved to their current home from the Lake Terrace high-rise in 1985, realizing a dream years in the making.
“Tyriece Kennedy will celebrate six years in the community next month. When he learned of the project proposal last year, amid the uprisings following George Floyd’s murder, he jumped at the chance to leave a positive ‘footprint’ on 71st Street.
“Though cooperative housing faces numerous challenges to surviving in South Shore, the model maintains a presence in the dense neighborhood. ‘Good intentions aside, you need the resources’ to invest in a property while keeping rental prices manageable for existing residents, Kelley said.
“Beyond finances, the Bennett Avenue project benefited from its investors’ wide knowledge base. Among the neighbors are professional architects, building engineers, attorneys, real estate investors, computer specialists and marketers. ‘You go back and forth between the idealism of wanting to make a change [and] the pragmatism of making an investment,’ Kelley said. ‘You have to balance those two things to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, but that you’re covering your bases so that it can be sustainable.” (Evans, Block Club Chicago, 11/16/21)
South Side Neighbors Unite To Restore Huge Vacant Apartment Building, Hoping To Revitalize 71st Street And Beyond; “It’s a real testament to the power of community, and our community especially,” said Michael Kelley, one of 27 South Shore residents who bought and renovated a vacant building at 7051 S. Bennett Ave, Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 11/16/21