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Major Illinois State Grant Is Poised To Bring New Life To Struggling Stretch Of Ashland Avenue In Back Of The Yards

CHICAGO (CBS) -- An Illinois state grant means new life for part of the Back of the Yards neighborhood that is well past its glory days.

A stretch of Ashland Avenue near 46th Street was once dotted with retail palaces attracting shoppers and money. Now, it is full of boarded-up windows and empty buildings.

But as CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot reported Tuesday, the grant is expected to make a tremendous difference.

A former Aronson Furniture showroom and warehouse at 4630 S. Ashland Ave. takes up 1.25 acres – stretching half a city block west all the way to Marshfield Avenue. The goal is to have new retail and affordable housing on that spot.

Those with businesses nearby can't wait for that to happen.

Toni Fonseca owns Ameri-Mex Insurance Agency, 4600 S. Ashland Ave. This month marks the 36th year for her business in the community.

She recalls a time when there was no looting, and thriving businesses were on every block.

"Aronson was here. Zemsky was here. Goldblatt's," Fonseca said. "It looks like a ghost town. That's what it looks like – that's what I see it - from those years."

The Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council wants to change that.

"This grant will help us change the narrative and change the perception of the entire community," said Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council chief executive officer Craig Chico.

The organization recently received $1.5 million through the state's Rebuild Distressed Communities Grant.

"It's depressing in that it sends the wrong message. There's no hope. There's no belief that this was worthy of development and it is," Chico said.

Chico said the money will be used to create retail stores, a community theater, and 80 to 90 one- to three-bedroom units of affordable housing. Low-income housing tax credits, Tax Increment Financing money, and federal funds are also supporting the nearly $45 million project.

Who's Eligible For A Rebuild Distressed Communities Grant?

The new development will be built where the old Aronson showroom and furniture store is located. It's been vacant for more than a decade.

"It's what the community deserves," Chico said. "We haven't had any investment in housing in our community of this magnitude in forever."

Dr. Ariel Chavez has cared for three generations at his practice, Chavez Medical Center at 4614 S. Ashland Ave., since 1978.

"It's good that there's going to be change," Chavez said.

His medical practice is right next door to the vacant Aronson store, and he says there are often people loitering behind the store.

"With this, this is going to improve very much this area, and there will be more jobs for the community," Chavez said.

Demolition of the old Aronson building is expected to begin in the spring, with the goal of that retail and affordable housing being built on its footprint.

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