University Village & Commons

Read Barb Risman’s Post about the NY Times article about University involvement in urban development.

The large mixed-use development of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s South Campus broke ground in 2000 after many years of planning and negotiation by the University. It transformed the historic but at the time largely vacant area known as the Maxwell Street Market into a hub of residential and academic activity. Like the location and construction of the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois under the tenure of Mayor Richard J. Daley, the University’s large expansion southward was also controversial under Mayor Richard M. Daley’s tenure. UIC’s issuance in 1996 of the request for proposals for a master developer for its South Campus coincided with the first U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI grant to the Chicago Housing Authority for the revitalization of the CHA’s ABLA Homes. Together, these two developments resulted in profound demographic change in our community. Many people in Chicago and elsewhere appreciated the area’s history, particularly its significance as a place where many Jewish merchants got their start and also where the style of what became known as the Chicago blues idiom, or the Chicago electric blues, evolved. As African Americans made their way up north during the Great Migration many settled in the area. Even in more recent times, when the area was largely uninhabited, blues musicians still frequently performed for free at the market during the warmer months.

A local resident, the late Bill Lavicka, founder of Historic Boulevard Services, who was an early pioneer and proponent of historic preservation in the Tri Taylor area of our community, strongly advocated saving the few remaining historic structures in the area, mostly on Halsted and Maxwell Streets. Many of the façades of these beautiful structures were incorporated into the development’s design, instantly giving the development a feeling of being more established than it really was. Another fascinating aspect of the area was the development of Halsted Street, just north and south of the railroad tracks at 16th Street, into a large artist colony beginning in the 1960’s similar to that of Tree Studios at 4 East Ohio Street in the River North area, but without the financial support of a wealthy patron like Tree Studios enjoyed. Many art galleries and artist lofts still remain in the area and many artists have moved south of 16th Street into the Pilsen community. The area is now branded and designated as the Chicago Arts District. The Chicago Arts District is close to University Commons and University Station. University Commons is a conversion of the largest produce market in Chicago, the South Water Street Market, into a beautiful residential development.