UBAM Executive Director Anita Cummings discusses LeClaire Courts redevelopment plans with Mark Kirincich and Bill Velazquez of the Cabrera Capital, the company handling the project. --Photo by Cosmo Hadac

UBAM Executive Director Anita Cummings discusses LeClaire Courts redevelopment plans with Mark Kirincich and Bill Velazquez of the Cabrera Capital, the company handling the project. --Photo by Cosmo Hadac

CHA’s LeClaire Courts will be rebuilt, developer vows

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Long-delayed project may break ground in 2024

By Tim Hadac

Four years after officials announced the coming rebirth of the LeClaire Courts CHA housing projects—and two years after construction was supposed to begin–no shovel has even touched dirt.

“I know you’ve heard this before [in past public meetings], but we are making tremendous progress,” insisted Mark Kirincich, an executive with Cabrera Capital, the firm chosen by the CHA to spearhead the LeClaire Courts Redevelopment effort.

Kirincich made the comment at the November meeting of the United Business Association of Midway, hosted at a local restaurant. About two dozen local business owners attended.

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UBAM Executive Director Anita Cummings discusses LeClaire Courts redevelopment plans with Mark Kirincich and Bill Velazquez of the Cabrera Capital, the company handling the project. –Photo by Cosmo Hadac

The latest projected timeline of the project is for ground to be broken on Phase I (construction of two multi-story buildings just south of 44th and Cicero, with some 190 residential units) next spring and buildings to be fully built possibly by late fall 2024.

Those moving into the residential portion of the buildings will be a mix of “Right of Return” CHA residents who lived in the old LeClaire Courts before it was razed in 2011, other low-income people who have never lived in CHA, as well people living above poverty level, Kirincich said.

All told, the redevelopment on the 36-acre parcel will see as many 700 housing units built—everything from studio apartments to multi-bedroom units to accommodate families.

Beyond the housing, the new LeClaire Courts is expected to include an Alivio health clinic that receives federal funds to care for the poor, a grocery store that Cabrera initially described as “top tier” but will not name (although sources say it will be a Shop n Save), a childcare center, an out-lot building that may be a bank and a limited number of ground-level shops in the two residential buildings on Cicero Avenue.

Kirincich said one challenge to the redevelopment is that construction costs have risen about 25% in the past two years, and interest rates have gone up. That has created “a whole lot of additional angst… to try to make this [LeClaire redevelopment] happen,” he said.

He also said the LeClaire site has “a whole lot of infrastructure that just doesn’t work. Streets are bad, water mains are bad, sewers are not so great. Streets aren’t aligned [with city streets south of 45th Street].”

“When we first got involved, we didn’t realize we’d have to bring a garden hose and an extension cord from 51st Street, just to get water and electricity to the [LeClaire] site,” he added, repeating a joke initially told by an official with the Habitat Co., a partner in the LeClaire Courts Redevelopment.

He claimed the Lightfoot Administration even tried to get Cabrera to foot 100% of the cost of infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Several issues were raised by those in attendance, including security. Old-timers in the area recall that when LeClaire Courts was constructed in 1950 to meet the ongoing post-war boom of housing demand, it was for a number of years a generally respected, clean, well-run operation. But over decades of neglect by the CHA, it slid into disrepair and despair. It became known as cluster of broken-down row houses and low-rise units marked by crime and neighborhood decay.

Kirincich said there will be a management office on site with security attached.

UBAM Executive Director Anita Cummings asked Kirincich to “talk timeline. This is a very ambitious project. When will it be finished? In several years? In my lifetime? What?”

He replied that the project would be finished in “more than” several years, but “definitely in your lifetime.”

The project has the enthusiastic support of 22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodriguez, as well as Hearst Community Organization President Joann Williams. Others, like Cummings and Archer Heights Civic Association President Thomas S. Baliga, are supportive of the concept but sometimes skeptical of the details.

Baliga added his thoughts.

“Ever since the long deteriorated LeClaire Courts complex was demolished in 2011, and the original Redevelopment Project promulgated by Cabrera Capital, we have supported that vision as an anchor project on the north end of the Cicero Avenue Corridor – The Gateway to Midway. After 12 years of countless public meetings where ground breaking dates have repeatedly been rescheduled, we are skeptical, but remain hopeful that this project will finally take off.

“The LeClaire Redevelopment being on the border between the Archer Heights (Sleepy Hollow) and Hearst-LeClaire communities will affect both neighborhoods. However, since 2017 the City administration has continually and deliberately ignored our dire warnings that two blatant and obvious problems at the Cicero Avenue/Stevenson Expressway interchange – current traffic congestion, and the squatters illegally living under the Stevenson/ railroad bridges with their panhandling and drug use – will doom this ambitions redevelopment to failure.

“With the traffic mess right outside the front door of the Phase 1 Redevelopment buildings, and the drug use and panhandling only a block north, nobody, especially parents with children, are going to invest their life savings in a market rate unit in either of those buildings.

“The current City administration needs to stop procrastinating and face the music now: Fence off the embankments under the Stevenson and the two railroad bridges, and push the State to implement the Cicero Avenue Expansion Project, a plan that is currently gathering dust on an IDOT shelf.”

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