Upscale dining, Isaac Hayes singing in Washington Park, new art galleries and front-row seats to the Bud Billiken parade are just some of the amenities available to residents in historic Bronzeville on the city's South Side.
Besides being in close proximity to Chicago's downtown, the McCormick Place, Lake Michigan and several of the city's expressways, moving to the up-and-coming area makes for a smart investment, said Aaron McDonald, real estate agent for Genesys Realty Group.
Once the equivalent of New York's Harlem during the Jazz Age, Bronzeville has a rich history as a vibrant center of African-American culture from the turn of the 20th Century until the 1960s, when the neighborhood fell into decline. The name Bronzeville refers to the skin color of African-Americans who migrated to the area from the South and was first used by James Gentry, an editor for the Chicago Bee.
Today, amid the renovated graystones and brownstones, Bronzeville is witnessing revitalization efforts.
Where 35th and State Streets meet rests a snapshot of what the neighborhood will look like in the next few years. Just steps away from U.S. Cellular Field sit newly constructed condos, townhouses and single-family homes that blend in with a trendy Starbucks and Jimmy John's sandwich shop.
The lakefront community sits minutes away from Chicago's major highways, including Interstate 55, Interstate 90 and 94, and Interstate 290. Residents can easily jump on the No. 4 Cottage Grove bus, the No. 3 King Drive bus or the Green Line train to head downtown.
About five years ago, neighborhood liquor stores and greasy spoons were just as much a fixture on State Street as were the Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens housing projects. Now several of those businesses are boarded up and vast stretches of empty fields await development.
"Although the housing market in historical Bronzeville mirrors the nations recent downturns, new development continues to be built and buyers are looking in full force to purchase new construction, gut-rehab graystones and state-of-the-art condos," said McDonald. While the market in Bronzeville may appear to be oversaturated with new development and foreclosed properties, McDonald said its an opportune time for buyers to catch great deals.
"This is how Donald Trump got rich," said McDonald. "It's a really good time to get in while the market is slow."
Accompanied by low-interest rates, he adds that developers are more than motivated to sell, offering incentives such as covering closing cost.
Price ranges in Bronzeville can vary depending on location. The farther north you travel, the more you will spend per square footage. A one-bedroom condo can run up to $200,000.
A single-family home can cost up to $500,000, and there are places in Bronzeville that could set you back $1 million.
Bronzeville, once predominantly African-American, is starting to see an influx of newcomers from diverse backgrounds and varied income levels, who value the area's rich cultural heritage.
In response, several area businesses have melded fine dining and the community's musical roots.
Blu47, at 47th and King Drive has combined dining with jazz and gospel music. Open since 2004, the restaurant features an upscale contemporary American menu. Famous for it's braised barbecue short-ribs and chicken lollipops, the restaurant showcases live jazz acts on Thursdays and gospel on Sundays.
The owner, Darryl Petty, has lived in Bronzeville for 15 years. "Our establishment is very family-oriented," he said. "I chose this location because the area is very up and coming, and business has been good since we've opened."
Other area businesses have also flourished, such as the Bronzeville Coffee House at 528 E. 43rd and the Negro League Cafe, at 43rd and Prairie.
Besides serving Caribbean and Southern-influenced entrees, the Negro League Cafe has entertainment on the menu, including neo-soul, hip hop, and rhythm and blues. There's even a spoken word and open-mic night.
More businesses have moved into the area in the past year, but there is still a need for more retail shops and grocery stores.
Quad Communities Development Corp. has been working to revitalize the Cottage Grove corridor, the eastern boundary of Bronzeville. So far, they are working on two small-scale projects that would bring more town homes and retail space to 45th and Cottage Grove Avenue.
The project is scheduled to break ground later this fall. The hopes are to bring more apparel stores, an additional coffee shop and juice bar to the area.
The corporation also has worked with the Mayor's Office of Special Events to bring a special farmer's market to the neighborhood. The Bronzeville Community Market debuted June 15 and is scheduled to run through late October. The goal of the market is to bring a larger variety of produce and goods to the area that has been challenged over the years to attract grocery chains.
"We decided to have the market on Cottage Grove to also bring attention to the many new businesses that have opened," said Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, executive director of Quad Communities Development Corp.
The housing downturn has forced a delay in the construction of the Shops at 47. It is to be built by Mahogany Ventures, a partnership between Skilken Co., a shopping center developer, and Troy Enterprises, an African-American development company. Both are based in Columbus, Ohio. The project, at 47th and Cottage Grove, now expects to break ground in 2009. It is to include 50,000 square feet of retail space and about 170 condo units, according to Frank Petruziello, Skilken's managing partner.
Talk of Chicago winning the bid for the 2016 Olympics, which would be held in Washington Park, has sparked discussion of other large-scale development projects in Bronzeville, including the possibility of razing the Lake Meadows Apartments, on King Drive at 32nd Street. That would make way for 7,000 new residential units, said Genesys Realty's McDonald.
"I always tell people to try to buy as close to Lake Meadows as you possibly can," he said. "I don't give people false hopes that the reason to buy is the Olympics. When the Olympics is gone, Chicago will still be here, the lake will still be here, and Bronzeville's excellent location to other places in the city will be what matters. Then you can tease all of your friends that you are in the best location in the city."