The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award
Ghian Foreman, Executive Director, Greater Southwest Development Corporation
Who better than a from-the-cradle real estate developer to take on the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood?
Since taking over as executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC) in 2010, Ghian Foreman has been much more than a rescuer of troubled property. He’s an inspiration and rallying point for a neighborhood hit hard by the sub-prime mortgage mess and its after-effects.
A businessman first, he’s streamlined the organization internally and innovated its approach to commercial and industrial development up and down 63rd and 59th streets. The two Special Service Areas managed there by GSDC are aggressively marketing vacant properties and helping existing businesses expand and/or increase profitability via group purchasing of everything from garbage pickup to credit card processing.
Ghian admits he was new to non-profits and credits GSDC’s founding executive director, Jim Capraro, with helping him avoid pitfalls while strengthening partnerships forged during Jim’s 30-plus years. One of the strongest is GSDC’s continuing alliance with Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), which builds community support for projects – like the new 40-bed domestic violence shelter – that GSDC helps develop and manage.
“He has a unique ability to cross economic, racial, religious, and inter-generational boundaries,” says Jeff Bartow, SWOP’s executive director. “Plus, a strong imagination for what's possible.”
Likely that’s due in large measure to disciplines developed while growing up on the South Side and helping his parents manage rental properties. He remembers a list of chores that included “sweep and mop the hallways, cut grass, shovel snow, fill up the boiler with water, take out tenants’ garbage.”
Now much of his non-GSDC time is spent redeveloping once-forsaken properties as a partner of Washington Park Development Group LLC. They’re converting the historic Schulze Bakery on East Garfield Boulevard into a computer data center; overhauling the closed Overton Elementary School into a live-work complex; and acquiring for rehab dozens of foreclosures on the South Side as part of the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization program.
His is an uncommon mix of private-sector and non-profit achievement, yet Ghian doesn’t view himself as all that special.
“My main goal here,” he says of his mission at GSDC, “is to continue the good work that came before me.”