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In Englewood, Whole Foods is just half the story

This 63-acre vacant lot northwest corner 63rd Halsted will be home Whole Foods Market.  |  Vincent D. Johnson~for

This 63-acre vacant lot on the northwest corner of 63rd and Halsted will be home to a Whole Foods Market. | Vincent D. Johnson~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 19, 2013 7:20PM

If 63rd and Halsted were a commercial corner in some well-off suburb, putting something on it would be fairly simple.

The whole 13 acres probably would be offered as a package, a buyer would be selected from multiple bidders, and plans would be presented to the village, which would review them with one eye on a promised influx of sales taxes.

But 63rd and Halsted is in Englewood, from which residents, businesses and investors have fled for the last 50 years. The mostly vacant part is on the northwest corner, part of the old Englewood Mall at the South Side community’s busiest crossroads in days gone by.

Even with the 2007 opening of Kennedy-King College southwest of the intersection, the emptiness on the opposite side spoke volumes. The site is open but not “clean” in the way developers talk. It consists of about 100 property index numbers signifying separate parcels. Parts of old foundations remain, and utility lines are everywhere underground. Two buildings will stay, including a former firehouse that’s a landmark.

However, it’s all under city ownership. In early September, Whole Foods, having examined a handful of sites in struggling Chicago neighborhoods, said it will put a store at 63rd and Halsted.

The announcement drew justified acclaim. No one was more appreciative than Leon Walker, managing partner of DL3 Realty LP, which is negotiating to acquire the land the store will use. “They are the Brad Pitt of grocery stores,” Walker said.

The hope is that Whole Foods, like a celebrity, will bring an entourage. And that connects Walker to Englewood Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) and David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a nonprofit developer spun off by U.S. Bank and best known from bringing Wal-Mart to Pullman. Their task is to build on the Whole Foods success.

Thompson advocates a mixed development for 63rd and Halsted containing retail, senior housing and schools, such as a program to train future first responders. She said diverse uses on the site will help the community rebound.

Doig is working the dirt courtesy of a pending contract with the city. He’s handling the site preparation and cleanup, which would be paid for from about $11 million in tax-increment financing.

Doig emphasized that the money is for the entire parcel, not Whole Foods. “This is truly a public-private partnership,” he said.

Walker, whose company would control the five acres closest to the corner, wants to build another 20,000 square feet for smaller retailers. He said McDonald’s wants a restaurant at the corner and the site also has room for a bank.

Portions of the other eight acres can be sold off to others. Doig said a senior housing builder, Gorman Co., has expressed interest.

Walker’s company invests in South Side retail properties. The former investment banker comes from a family of teachers, and his parents founded the Children’s Developmental Institute, a preschool with two South Side locations.

He said his style is to tailor a project to a community’s needs and not ram through a pre-conceived plan. “A lot of developers approached this site and the only thing they could see is a big-box retailer and a parking field,” he said.

Walker said that what’s missing in Englewood is a diverse selection of small stores. “An active retail scene makes for a livable and attractive community,” he said. “It helps people feel comfortable.”

Whole Foods is scheduled to open in 2016.

ON TRACK: Advocates of transit-oriented developments should take note of research by the real estate firm RE/MAX. It found that median sales prices of homes rose twice as fast in suburbs that have a Metra station vs. those that don’t. Comparing the first half of this year against the same period in 2012, the median sales price rose 5.6 percent in towns with Metra stops vs. 2.3 percent in the rest, RE/MAX said.

DOING THE DEALS: The Wrigley Building, following up on its new lease with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said it signed to two retail tenants for space along Michigan Avenue. Walgreen Co. leased 30,000 square feet for a two level store in the North Tower and Peet’s Coffee & Tea signed for 1,300 square feet in the South Tower. … The nonprofit Academy of General Dentistry has relocated from 211 E. Chicago to 560 W. Lake, where it has doubled its space to 30,000 square feet. … Information technology consultants Concurrency Inc. leased 5,000 square feet at 150 N. Wacker, where it employs 15 people. It plans to hire about 30 more in three years.

David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-AM (780) and WBBM-FM (105.9). The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.

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