79th and Exchange Q&A

On September 22, 2021, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) hosted a public review of the two responses to the INVEST South/West Request for Proposals (RFP) on 79th & Exchange Ave. The following is a select list of questions from the event and answers.

Some of the questions have been combined or edited for the sake of brevity or clarity.  A view of the full community meeting can be seen on DPD’s YouTube page

After the meeting, DPD provided a series of questions to both the Thrive Exchange team and the Urban Array Innovation team. Their unedited answers are provided below.

Thrive Exchange

How is your development answering the charge in creating community wealth?

Thrive Exchange will generate approximately 60 permanent skilled jobs and approximately 200 temporary skilled construction jobs. The project team is committed to hiring locally and has an established track record of doing so.  Chicago Family Heath Center (CFHC) will create high paying new jobs in health care such as doctors, nurses, lab technicians and others.  As stated in the video by CFHC’s CEO Barrett Hatches, CFHC would intentionally hire those new jobs from the community.  Entrepreneurship will be encouraged through live-work lofts and 11,000sf of retail spaces in both rental buildings and in the Ringer Building.  We have submitted a detailed plan to the city responding to the community wealth building matrix developed by the Department of Planning and Development.

What types of business will be operated in the development, and have you secured these businesses?

Thrive Exchange has an engagement letter with Chicago Family Health Center (CFHC), an award-winning Federally Qualified Health Center that has provided quality service to south side communities for over forty years.  CFHC will share space in the Ringer Building with a co-working operator.  The project’s ground floor retail spaces are designed to accommodate local entrepreneurial businesses.  We will work with the Alderman’s office and local business groups to identify emerging entrepreneurs to lease the spaces.

What is the timeline for the construction of your proposal?

Thrive Exchange will be constructed in three phases over 36 to 48 months, after the RFP is awarded.  The first phase, Thrive Exchange North, would start construction approximately 12 months after the RFP is awarded (estimated, spring of 2023).  The Ringer Building and Thrive Exchange South, the second phase, would start construction approximately 1 year after the first phase.  The 3rd phase of 24 for-sale homes, would start construction a year after the second phase.

What level of sustainability are you proposing for your development (i.e. LEED)?

The rental apartments and related ground floor retail space will meet Enterprise Green Communities, a standard which is similar to LEED but suited to residential (while LEED is geared for commercial).  The Ringer Building commercial will meet the City’s standards for sustainability and will strive to meet LEED in addition.  The for-sale condominiums will also meet the City’s standards for sustainability, incorporating solar panels to provide up to 30% of the energy needs of the residents.

Was a traffic study conducted to understand the increase of traffic in this area with your development? What was the recommendation of the study?

A traffic study would be conducted should the Thrive Exchange team be awarded the RFP.  However, our development is expected to attract a lot of its activity on foot and bicycle, with people coming to and from the train.  These people would pick up dinner on the way home, coffee in the morning, stop at a bike repair store or a creative class.

Was a housing study conduct to justify the amount of housing proposed?

Thrive Exchange is a transit-oriented development that will attract rent-paying households that work downtown.  By increasing the population of working families, this development will support higher quality retail and professional services in the immediate area.  Bringing working families back to South Shore will help keep dollars in the neighborhood, providing jobs for South Shore residents and a higher quality of life.  The RFP provided detailed statistics on housing and population loss over the past 50 years, noting the community has experienced a decrease of residents of over 30%.  Quality affordable housing, well executed and with community enhancing amenities, is the gateway to housing ownership for working families, enabling them to build up the resources to become homeowners.  Research indicates that working families are more likely to buy a home in the neighborhood they live in.

Can the development team reconsider ownership housing versus rental?

Thrive Exchange provides a continuum of housing options including approximately 25% of units as for-sale housing, which is already a part of our proposal.

How will parking be addressed?

Thrive Exchange has a term sheet with Metra to park on the currently under-utilized land to the west of the tracks.  This space will accommodate approximately 100 cars.

Will there be affordable commercial spaces available?

Thrive Exchange ground floor commercial space will be affordable to emerging entrepreneurs and will be offered at a discount to comparable newly built space on the South Side.

Will there be spaces for non-retail entrepreneurs (i.e., creative spaces)?

Thrive Exchange is designed to support emerging entrepreneurs, artists, and professionals in the community.  Creative space would be affordable to an artist, baker, professional service provider or a dance studio.  Further, the live-work lofts are highly flexible units on the ground floor of the Thrive Exchange North building that will offer space for creators and entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses from their homes.

What is the percentage of M/WBE? Can the teams exceed the standard and aim at 50 to 75% participation?

Thrive Exchange development team is led by DL3 Realty, a Black-owned development firm which is committed to diversity in the execution of its projects.  Revere Properties is a Black-owned design-build firm which will select an experienced general contractor as joint venture partner to construct the buildings.  KOO Architecture is a leading woman and minority owned architecture firm.  Together, the Thrive Exchange development team is committed to exceeding the minimum MBE/ WBE requirements, which DL3 has regularly accomplished on its other award-winning community developments.  The team will seek to exceed minimum requirements with a goal of 50% MBE participation.

Array Innovation Exchange

How is your development answering the charge in creating community wealth?

Creating businesses to grow community and personal wealth in South Shore/ South Chicago

The primary way our development is answering the question of creating community wealth is through our Startup Studio and Business Incubator. Our goal is to create or grow businesses that will be headquartered or operate out of the South Shore neighborhood. Business owners will be members of the community who live and spend within South Shore, and as such will contribute to the economic circulation of wealth within the community.

These new businesses will in turn create jobs, offering opportunities to members of the community, allowing them to find employment within their neighborhood.  We will deploy a cluster development strategy to create a booming business hub on 79th street which will grow well into the future. 

We believe in a cluster development approach.  We will grow businesses in the Startup Studio/ Incubator that will grow and move into the neighborhood.  We help start businesses that are part of the community. 

We do not believe that affordable housing will build community wealth.  South Shore/South Chicago has more affordable housing than almost any other area in Chicago.  And most affordable housing developments end up the same and are not the best community partners.  Our development only includes 8 Units of affordable housing, which is a good amount to create a diverse but not saturated community. 

This community does not need more affordable housing, especially in this gateway corridor.  We need economic infrastructure.  We need activity on corners and opportunities for youth and young adults that give them access to the future and avenues to build generational wealth. 

Many of the commercial properties on Madison (in Garfield Park) that were destroyed during the MLK riots were replaced with affordable housing to shut down the economic vitality of the neighborhood.  This gateway is an opportunity to create economic momentum and infrastructure for the next generation.

Education and Training for the economy of the FUTURE 

Our community and youth programs will cater to increasing exposure to the expected jobs and opportunities of tomorrow in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM). African American workers are expected to fall behind and be replaced with the coming advancements in technology. Through our programs, we will ensure the community and youth are exposed to skills that will prepare them for the future, setting them up to reap the economic benefits that careers and entrepreneurship in STEM promise. 

Our programming partners (1871, mHhub, Techstars, Jane Addams Resource Corporation) all have strong commitments to diversity and economic and social inclusion.  They represent resources and access for communities of color to investment, information, and networks we have been locked out of for centuries. 

Community Economics & Tokenization 

Key Takeaway:  Our communities need to re-circulate money and resources better locally, and trap what investment comes in.  We need to develop systems that help us share better, invest, and track progress and success.  The technology that we are talking about will allow us to do that better than ever before and is part of the near future. 

African Americans have been intentionally disadvantaged and excluded from so many of the channels that allow individuals to economically advance themselves and their families, and that is due to the unmistakable and systematic disenfranchisement of black people in the United States. The existing economic system fails to serve us time and time again, and as our communities continue to lag behind, it is clear that small measures cannot bring the change we need.  

Our team at the AIE believes that instead of trying to replicate the economy we missed out on, we need to build a new infrastructure that will grow with the economy of tomorrow. The decentralized, tokenized economy that the AIE will utilize is the revolutionary solution to creating enduring community wealth that South Shore needs, and that the DPD has asked for. 

One of the biggest issues that divested communities of color face is capital leakage. When a dollar enters a black community, it typically only circulates once before being spent elsewhere. The majority of us work and shop outside of our communities, and this causes our small businesses to suffer. When a decentralized, tokenized economy is used, keeping our commerce within our community will become more possible and more attractive than ever before. 

One of the greatest strengths of this innovation is that it promotes collaboration and localized spending by nature.  

Blockchain is a system of recording information in a way that makes it impossible to change, hack, or cheat. It is essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain, helping businesses cut costs by eliminating middlemen that have traditionally provided the processing that blockchain can do on its own. 

Tokens can be earned by doing things like shopping at a local South Shore business, volunteering on a clean-up crew, or giving your graphic design services to one of our startups, to name a few examples. Once you have tokens, you’ll be able to use them to do all sorts of things like getting a cup of coffee at Momentum or reserving a session in one of our sensory deprivation float tanks or purchasing some vegetables from our vertical garden. There is no reason we should limit ourselves to exchanging financial value when every person has so much more to offer than that, whether it be time, service, or expertise. We can uplift and support one another without buying into the traditional economic system that has been shutting us out– we can create our own.  

In addition to promoting collaboration and community reliance, the AIE’s tokenized system is amazing in that it traps all inputted value within South Shore virtually for the end of time. There is no machine to exchange these tokens for dollars that can go be spent at a business somewhere outside of the community or network, and this means their value will continue to circulate and benefit South Shore forever. There is no traditional system with value retention like this.  

We agree with the DPD’s charge for creating a catalytic community wealth system, and we firmly believe this is the answer they are looking for. This proposal offers the best solution in creating enduring positive change in South Shore through collaboration, localization, and efficiency, and we look forward to proving it.  

What types of business will be operated in the development, and have you secured these businesses? 

The Duæl, our rooftop restaurant will feature a variety of cuisines and chefs in a rotational 4–6-week residency and will be a key business operating out of the development. 

The vertical farm will be a source of ingredients for the Duæl as well as a source of fresh produce for the community, who can preorder a selection of fresh produce for themselves and their families. The community can be sure that these products are organically grown on site and are readily available for consumption.  

Momentum Coffee and Roastery will operate out of the development providing both a coffee shop and roastery. The coffee shop will be a cozy sit-down cafe located inside one of the retail spaces within the Ringer Building, and in the summer, there will be a patio area spilling out of the entrance to offer guests outdoor seating as well. Between the inviting storefront and the amazing smell that will be emanating from it, The Roastery will surely attract a lot of foot traffic and return customers to the 79th and Exchange Street corridor, fostering economic recovery and wealth.

We are also looking for a community bakery partner to pair with the coffee house and complimentary amenities that can benefit the neighborhood and Array Innovation Exchange participants

Our mental and physical health center will be available to our members to strengthen and heal them physically, mentally, and spiritually. This space will include Sanctuary Health, (our preventative alternative medicine partner) Self-Mind, (our mental and emotional health services partner) a class fitness center, a yoga/meditation studio, and sensory deprivation float tanks. We believe that community healing begins at the level of the individual, and that is why we are dedicated to providing South Shore with such an array of health and wellness services. Our holistic approach to wellness was created with the intention of developing well rounded individuals for the South Shore community and well-rounded leaders of tomorrow. 

What is the timeline for the construction of your proposal?

Completion: JANUARY 2024

August 2021 – Submission of RFP response to the DPD

October 2021 – City selects development team for project

November 2021 -Redefined conceptual design of project

Predevelopment loan and equity commitments for project costs

December 2021 – Submit Planned Development package for rezoning and PD review

January 2022 -DPD/Zoning staff review and approval of site plans

IDOT Traffic and Street Light Study and Review

Subdivision of property

Apply for TIF and other government grants

February 2022 – Planning Board approval

March 2022 – Zoning Board Approval

April 2022 – Other City Approvals

May 2022 – Architectural and Engineering work (4 months)

September 2022 – Permitting process (4 months)

January 2023 – Construction of residential and commercial improvements

January 2024 – OPEN Array Innovation Exchange, Museum to follow, begin leasing of residential and commercial spaces 

What level of sustainability are you proposing for your development (i.e. LEED)? 

The AIE team believes that in order to achieve sustainable growth in our personal prosperity, we must ensure to nurture and care for the natural resources and living environment around us. 

Keeley Construction is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, has many LEED Accredited Professionals on staff, and has an extensive history in building projects that are Gold, Silver, and Certified LEED. We intend on achieving a GOLD LEED certification and are dedicated to maintaining sustainable practices once the structure is running.

In our partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers- Chicago we hope to innovate in the field of sustainable business and engineering.  As we continue the design and development of this project we will incorporate and test as many sustainable engineering methods as possible.  We want this building to be a highlight of the community and forward thinking, to lead the way in economic and environmental sustainability. 

 Was a traffic study conducted to understand the increase of traffic in this area with your development? What was the recommendation of the study? 

Outside of the study conducted as part of the RFP, A traffic study has not been conducted as of yet but is part of our pre-development process. 

Was a housing study conduct to justify the amount of housing proposed?

Our development is NOT primarily a housing development.  The study focused on the number of entrepreneurs we could actively enroll in the business incubator at the Array Innovation Exchange, how we can draw people to visit the area with the Black Museum of Technology & Engineering.  

With additional consideration for rental housing as well, to include our entrepreneur in residence program, leading to the current number of 40 units with most at or above market rate, with only 8 affordable units. 

Our housing considerations focused on the main goal for development which is to build community wealth. As such, we did not consider affordable housing a viable option given that affordable housing does not build community wealth and South Shore already has more per capita affordable housing than any other neighborhood in Chicago.  

Can the development team reconsider ownership housing versus rental?

Yes.  We are not bound to rental housing for the long term.  Urban Array's goals with its development partners are to transition as much of the development to community ownerships (housing), and to complete Urban Array Foundation ownership (Array Innovation Exchange & The Museum of Black Technology & Engineering). 

In the short term we need the rental revenue to keep the Array Innovation Exchange and Museum low to zero cost for the South Shore/ South Chicago community members.  It is our development exit strategy to think about the community in the transition of project parts as they are paid for 

How will parking be addressed? 

We will have a parking garage with 30 parking spaces.  There are also surface parking options at lots across the street from the Ringer building and behind it to the east.  These two areas could easily handle parking for the Array Innovation Exchange and the Museum. 

Will there be affordable commercial spaces available? 

We will have 2-3 affordable commercial spaces available that will be reserved for minority entrepreneurs that are either from South Shore or have graduated from our startup incubator. The spaces in the AIE are designed to grow businesses to a level where they “graduate” from the program and get new spaces nearby in the community. 

Will there be spaces for non-retail entrepreneurs (i.e., creative spaces)?

We believe that the community economy of the future has to grow beyond traditional retail businesses.  This is a primary goal of the Array Innovation Exchange, to provide community infrastructure to build businesses of the future. 

The AIE is an incredible place to explore many different types of business and creative pursuits.  

Our office and classroom space will be available to our members to reserve meeting rooms, host workshops, and to get work done away from home.  

Our Startup Incubator and Accelerator will support all kinds of business ideas with an emphasis in tech and innovation. We believe that though retail stores are necessary, they are not the only or best passage towards sustainable, generational wealth. Technology is the way of the future, so that is the future we should prepare and educate our community for.  

Our Makerspace & Fabrication Lab will be an incredible resource for entrepreneurs. Plenty of people have ideas, but most aren’t able to see them through because they don’t have the physical capability or know how. With our prototyping lab, inventors will be able to take an idea from their head and turn it into a tangible product in their hand with the help of our expert local partners mHub and JARC. This fabrication lab will open doors for local entrepreneurs and innovators that would never be accessible otherwise.  

Our digital media studio will also be an invaluable resource to entrepreneurs and creators of all kinds. The podcast studio, sound stage for video production, music recording studio, and digital media editing lab will be available for all of our members to utilize, whether they are making promotional materials for their business or working towards a personal creative goal. This digital media space will house over $100,000 worth of cutting-edge equipment that will be available to our members for use and rental, an opportunity we would like to bring to South Shore that is normally reserved for large universities.  

What is the percentage of M/WBE? Can the teams exceed the standard and aim at 50 to 75% participation?

Our minimum percentage of MBE/WBE is 40%.  We are in the business of building minority businesses, so in all regards we will look to community resources in the construction of the project and the outfitting of the building once complete. We intend on exceeding the standard and will aim for 50%+ participation with the help of our community partners, The South Shore Chamber of Commerce, the Neighborhood Network Alliance, and The National Society of Black Engineers. The AIE team will do whatever it can to leverage products and services from minority vendors, and we will continue to listen to the community on how to best do this. It is also important to emphasize that while minority participation is key in the construction of the building, we believe that it is more important this project be a catalyst for the rest of the community.  What comes out of the building over the next 20 years is more important than what goes into it while being constructed.  We must be forward thinking about community investment.