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The Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award

DL3 Realty for Englewood Square

Eric Young Smith

When the idea of a Whole Foods store in Englewood was proposed by then Alderman Joanne Thompson, Teamwork Englewood’s Quality-of-Life Plan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, there were more skeptics than boosters of the proposal, but one believer was developer Leon Walker, born and raised on Chicago’s South Side.

While Leon, who is president of DL3 Realty, knew the chal- lenges, he also saw the potential. The neighborhood around 63rd and Halsted had once been a thriving retail center and although Englewood’s population had declined in recent years, there remained more than 30,000 residents who he believed would appreciate and buy the healthy foods and other basic goods that every neighborhood needs.

Walker’s research showed that within a mile of the site were more than 2,000 households that made over $50,000 annually, and while they’re overshadowed by more than 8,000 households living in poverty, members of these solidly middle class households could afford to shop at a Whole Foods-anchored retail development. A City of Chicago 2012 Green Healthy Neighborhood retail study confirmed his belief, finding that more than $127 million in consumer spending left Englewood each year because there were few retail venues.

Walker was eager to pursue a shopping center on 5.5 acres at the northwest corner of 63rd and Halsted, anchored by a Whole Foods and joined by a Starbucks, a Chipotle and other national brands. Thompson and Walker found that they had reliable and powerful allies. With the full support of Mayor Emanuel, the City of Chicago sold Walker the land for a dollar and helped arrange the complicated funding that such public/private ventures require. And the project gained the enthusiastic support of the CEOs of Whole Foods and Starbucks, Walter Robb and Howard Schultz. In fact, Robb and his team made numerous trips to Chicago to attend neighborhood meetings and to get resident feedback about the project.

As important, the grocer not only hired local residents to build and work in the store, Whole Foods also contracted with more than 30 local producers of food and other products - businesses whose growth are critical to the community’s future but who typically aren’t consulted about new developments slated for their doorsteps.

“This is more than a shopping center,” said Perry Gunn, executive director of Teamwork Englewood, who led the creation of the Quality-of-Life Plan that first envisioned a new retail center for Englewood. “It’s a place that will make people think differently about this community. They’ll feel the vibe. It makes businesses want to invest here and folks want to live here.”