University of Chicago
Refocusing UChicago’s anchor-based investment in Chicago’s Southside
The University of Chicago has long recognized the potential to channel its institutional resources to strengthen neighborhood and economic development efforts across the city’s South Side, while also improving campus edge amenities for its students, faculty, and staff. U3 Advisor’s work with UChicago began in 2007 when our team was tasked with the creation of the 53rd Street investment strategy. 53rd Street serves as a prominent corridor near the University, connecting to the broader community and city. U3 advocated for a development plan that featured the University at the helm, aggregating real estate and investing in local business owners, to pursue a more active commercial corridor that caters to the University and the Hyde Park community.
Fast forward to 2014, UChicago approached U3 again to evaluate the impact of the University’s 180+ community-facing programs spread across a 9-neighborhood geography. The programs were housed in every department across the University, ranging from professor-led research studies, to housing incentive policies, to student-teacher programs. Our analysis yielded a very clear conclusion: the University had undertaken an incredible amount of discrete programming. However, the investment, while considerable, was spread thin across too large of a geography to realize demonstrable impact. Instead, we saw that by targeting a smaller geographic area directly adjacent to campus, University-led investments, including physical enhancements and activation of real estate, could layer and provide compounding benefit to the community and the University alike.
To implement this approach, from 2015-2018 U3 worked alongside members of the Office of Civic Engagement to create investment strategies specific to the neighborhoods of Woodlawn, Washington Park and Hyde Park. In Woodlawn, we recommended the University focus on partnering with strong community groups to co-invest in the neighborhood, while providing housing for faculty, staff and students to reside on the South Side. In Washington Park, the strategy maximized University-held real estate assets along a particular corridor, Garfield Blvd, which included the catalytic arts- and community-based project, the Arts Block. And in Hyde Park, we focused on continuing investment on 53rd Street to further diversify the commercial holdings and establish the corridor as a local destination.
Working together with UChicago to develop these neighborhood approaches, U3 also worked with its leadership to restructure the University’s own staffing and structure of the real estate and civic engagement offices. Restructuring would allow the University to act and dedicate resources more effectively to support the neighborhood investment plans. As a result, the Commercial Real Estate Office (CREO), later renamed the Real Estate Office (REO), expanded its focus to include residential offerings and play a larger role in University-wide real estate strategy. As part of this work, U3 also led the executive search for the head of REO, seeking a candidate who blended the financial and development expertise needed to implement these projects with a solid community development and planning background. The engagement concluded with a comprehensive review of REO’s real estate portfolio, creating metrics for the performance of real estate assets tied to their mission- and community-serving purposes.
As transformative, community-oriented development continues across the campus edge and South Side neighborhoods, UChicago is well-equipped with the leadership, vision, and strategy needed to continue championing neighborhood growth.