The Foundation for Homan Square and IFF have formally joined together to maintain and expand the tapestry of community resources built up in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood over the last 20 years. The two longtime partners agreed to work hand-in-hand to leverage the best of each other’s organizations for the long-term benefit of the Homan Square community.
“The remarkable, 20-year transformation of Homan Square from an abandoned commercial and industrial campus into a vibrant community hub is rooted in the vision and dogged commitment of community leaders and people at the Foundation for Homan Square and Shaw Development,” said Kirby Burkholder, President of IFF’s Social Impact Accelerator. “The FHS-IFF partnership honors that incredible legacy and looks to build on it by committing IFF’s full suite of resources – our financing, real estate tools, and research capacity – to further realize the Homan Square community’s vision.”
Originally formed in 1995, the Foundation’s purpose was to oversee the redevelopment of Homan Square – a 55-acre property that previously housed the historic Sears catalog facility, office tower, and power plant built between 1905 and 1907. Today, that campus hosts a 70,000-square-foot community center; a 14-story hub for arts education, youth leadership development, job training, and nonprofits; 400 units of affordable housing; affordable health care providers; YMCA day care facilities; and public charter elementary and high schools.
IFF first partnered with the Homan Square foundation and community in 2005, when they were evaluating how to transform the decommissioned power plant into a school. At that time, there were very few high-quality educational options in the area, and the community had identified a new school as a logical next step for the campus. But repurposing the decommissioned power plant involved countless challenges, not the least of which were environmental remediation concerns and property records dating back to the 1880s.
The massive and complex project took $40 million and nearly four years to complete, and it formed the foundation of a long relationship between IFF and Homan Square. Later, IFF and Homan Square partnered again to realize another major community vision: the re-development of the 14-story Nichols Tower into a kind of mall of community amenities.
“IFF was brought on because of their real estate expertise, but they stayed on because of the way they worked with the community to realize our vision for these spaces,” said Kevin Sutton, Executive Director of the Foundation for Homan Square. “Power House High School was built to the highest environmental standard, and the new programs at Nichols Tower expand, complement, and benefit from the existing schools and health and social service programs already on the Homan Square Campus. Going forward, under the new FHS-IFF partnership, collaborations like this will be the rule, not the exception.”
“Homan Square already has remarkable assets. Now we need to continue working together to make sure they continue to be great. The community has to define what that means, and we’re here to help support that conversation,” Burkholder said. “What that looks like will be prioritized by the community and, based on the current strategic direction, probably include a combination of further development on the Homan Square campus and surrounding areas, continuing to be excellent caretakers of existing spaces, and finding creative ways to further leverage existing service providers.”
According to Sutton, there are more than 1,000 kids a day on campus, but many of them are only taking advantage of a fraction of the available services.
“Let’s say there’s a student over at DRW College Prep, and all they know about is the school,” Sutton said. “How do we get his family to sign up for classes at the pool, at the fitness center, at the park district? Would that teenager be interested in participating in an after-school program with Free Spirit Media or School of the Art Institute? We’re constantly in conversations with residents about how they can connect to an impact.”
Those conversations often occur at meetings of the Community Leadership Council and Community Advisory Council. The former is comprised of representatives from all of the on-campus service providers, and the later is focused on community residents.
“We don’t do anything unless it is the will and voice of the community,” Sutton said. “The Foundation for Homan Square has built our reputation on that principle, and we’ll continue to do so. Our brand and experience, combined with IFF’s real estate and lending services, could come together to do some great things.”
“In addition to doing great things at Homan Square, this new partnership is about committing ourselves to a more equitable approach to community development,” added Burkholder. “One that puts IFF’s substantial tools and resources in the service of a community’s long-term vision. This is an important part of our new strategic plan – to push the boundaries of what it means to be a community development financial institution and increase our social impact.”