Auburn Gresham’s Healthy Living Center will open on 79th Street this month, breathing new life into a long-vacant building

AUBURN GRESHAM – A South Side Healthy Living Center will soon open on 79th Street, bringing neighborhood essentials to the community, nearly two years after winning a $10 million citywide prize town.

The Healthy Lifestyle Hub, 839 W. 79th St., will open July 29, said Carlos Nelson, director of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation.

The development company, which ran the hub, will celebrate the grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Nelson said. An hour remains to be determined.

Credit: Provided

The four-story Healthy Lifestyle Hub will house a myriad of tenants, including Mikkey’s Retro Grill, Bank of America, UI Health, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Illinois and a UIC neighborhood center. The Illinois Tollway will train members of the black and brown community at the center for jobs with the organization, Nelson said.

An UI health clinic and urgent care center will occupy the entire second floor and part of the third. The clinic will provide medical, dental and mental health services. It is expected to serve more than 30,000 patients a year, Nelson said.

A high-tech kitchen and training center sponsored by the Chicago Bears will open on the first floor, giving local chefs, neighbors and students a place to master healthy cooking. A cafe has already been built to house a local cafe. The hub will also offer free Wi-Fi throughout the building.

Nelson said the best charm of all would be the 18-by-18-foot windows on the first floor. The oversized windows “will bring in light and illuminate 79th Street and Auburn Gresham, figuratively and literally,” Nelson said.

“We didn’t design this based on fear,” Nelson said. “We want floor-to-ceiling windows. We want windows everywhere. We want residents to know that this is a community like Downtown, West Loop or any other community that is thriving and has a high quality of life.

Credit: Provided

The hub site once housed the Rusnak Bros. furniture store and showroom, which opened in 1925. The building had bricked windows on almost every floor with retail on the ground floor, said Nelson.

In the 1970s, the building became a dark, windowless public aid office, Nelson said.

For years the building sat vacant. But once the development company got to work, it used “a lot of money and a lot of time” to restore it and add something new, Nelson said.

They took “careful steps to preserve the terracotta of this building” and “hollowed out” the center of the building to add an elevator, Nelson said. They also “blew out windows” on every floor, she said.

Credit: Provided

Critical funding and donations helped the development corporation rebuild and preserve the nearly 100-year-old building, Nelson said.

In 2020, the Healthy Lifestyle Hub won the $10 million Chicago Prize from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation. The hub also received $4 million from the city’s Invest South/West program.

The Bears donated more than $600,000 to power the high-tech kitchen, Nelson said. Companies like Whirlpool and Kohler also donated fixtures and fittings for bathrooms and offices.

The hub will change the narrative for neighbors who only saw an impending vacant building in their community, Nelson said.

“Nearly 30 graduating classes from Leo High School walked past this vacant bricked-up building, and it became the backdrop to their existence,” Nelson said. “For me, it was important for us to conceive of this from a perspective that says, ‘Hey kids, we live in a place that looks like West Loop. “”

Credit: Provided

The Healthy Hub is one of many projects the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation has up its sleeve, Nelson said.

Of the $10 million granted by the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, approximately $5 million went to the Green Era Campus, a renewable energy and urban farm development at 650 W. 83rd St. designed by the Auburn Gresham Group and the nonprofits Urban Growers Collective and Green Era Partners, Nelson said.

And $1 million will be used to transform the vacant 300,000 square foot Calumet High School, 8131 S. May St., into “something that benefits the community and is owned by the community,” Nelson said.

The group will also attempt to reuse vacant community storefronts.

In recent years, a Save A Lot grocery store, CVS, Bank of America branch, and BJ’s Market & Bakery have closed. More recently, a local Aldi closed unexpectedly, shocking neighbors.

The Healthy Lifestyle Hub will bring a pharmacy and bank back to the community. The company is working to “address the problem of food insecurity,” Nelson said.

And if all goes well, vacant stores like CVS and Bank of America will become company-operated health and wellness campuses, Nelson said.

“If there was a local entity or a landlord who owned in the community, we probably wouldn’t have woken up to a vacant 13,000 square foot building,” Nelson said. “We really promote community ownership. The creation of local wealth is at the forefront of our efforts.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The vacant city-owned lot at 838-58 W. 79th St. in Auburn Gresham on August 25, 2021.

Opposite the hub, Auburn Gardens, a $40 million affordable housing development, will come to life. At the end of the street, a $35 million Metra station is planned for 2024.

Soon, neighbors will have all their needs close to home. Auburn Gresham is on the move, Nelson said.

“My goal is that through home ownership and building wealth in the community, we can show others that you can afford one of the houses, one of the bungalows and buy your first home in Auburn Gresham. “Nelson said.

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