That's just a tease, of course; no one expects Target on Cottage Grove within the next 6 months, 6 years, and some may say we need to wait 6 decades. After all, it took 30 years for Grand Boulevard to lose 52,000 people, about as much time as it took Hyde Park to lose a comparable number.
But there are signs of positive change. As we highlighted back in August, Alderman Preckwinkle is helping to bring an exciting mixed-use development to the corner of Cottage Grove and 47th. And an estimated 10,000 folks are expected to move into the area as it continues to attract middle-class home buyers, and as 3,600 new mixed-income units come on line by 2010 as part of the Chicago Housing Authority's "great transformation."
Some changes, in the right circumstances, can be bracing. Look at Evanston, which only a few years ago had a rather torpid downtown area with little-to-no advantage taken of its excellent and centralized transit infrastructure. It now has a booming downtown commercial district, high-rise residential clustered around METRA and "L" stations, and a combination of local and national, large and small-scale retail. All while preserving its historic, single-family neighborhoods. This took forethought, planning, and a commitment to change.
Similar transformations, though more limited, have occurred around rail hubs in Arlington Heights, and Palatine, both on METRA lines.
Hyde Park is indeed a different species, not being a distinct municipality, cut up into several different political jurisdictions, and like everyone else subject to byzantine City bureaucracy. But it does have a METRA line with multiple stations, and good bus service, and, as many readers of this blog have commented, a fair amount of pent-up demand.
So what's the deal?
A few factors are mentioned in a 2005 interview with Hank Webber, VP of Community Affairs at the U of C: prevalence of relatively small spaces discourages larger retailers, as does the suspicion that a local store would lose out to competition from the Loop, or the growing commercial strip along Roosevelt Road. From a demographic perspective, Hyde Park's high student population is viewed as more or less equivalent to an impoverished community like Grand Boulevard, with 25,000 people living below poverty. Though aggregate buying power is there, both neighborhoods have to work hard to convince retailers that they are viable markets.
A 2005 Urban Lands workshop on redevelopment in Grand Boulevard highlighted Cottage Grove as a key element in any revitalization. One crucial factor: there is land available. Public transportation, as well as under-utilized road capacity, make the area ripe for future commercial development as the local population grows and average household incomes rise. Hyde Park doesn't have this kind of real estate to offer, but it would only benefit from the development of a neighboring community that did.
While Hyde Park will most likely have to piggy-back off of neighboring communities for large scale retail, it's not too soon to think about how to improve the climate for smaller businesses. The participants at the above-mentioned workshop agree that, in any of the lakefront, South Side neighborhoods, there is a shortage of small retail space, but building it out is an expensive proposition that will require subsidy (from TIF funds, for example), and a commitment to providing top grade retail space in a mixed-use project.
We all know that a few of those are set to come on line, or are in the planning stages, and how important they therefore are to advancing Hyde Park to its small retail "tipping point."
"The most important thing a community can do is to set the table," remarked a local developer at the 2005 workshop. The deck is stacked against a lot of South Side neighborhoods, for historical, racial, and other reasons. But this is all the more reason to make it attractive for the small retailer to locate here by building the best quality and most plentiful new space that can be provided, whether in the ground level of a new hotel, the street level of a new residential tower, or by upgrading and expanding existing properties.