The Gateway Project: Joyce Gibson
Chicago’s far southeast side is poised for a major transformation. A massive, 580-acre new development called Chicago Lakeside is planned for the former USX Steel site. The entire development site is larger in size than the Loop and, when completed, will redefine the lakefront. The plan calls for a technology campus, boat slips, major retail, restaurants, residential complexes and office towers. Initial infrastructure building begins this summer, but the total project is expected to take 40 years to complete.
In South Shore and South Chicago, a few dedicated residents are fighting to ensure that the people who currently live there are able to take advantage of the boom taking place in their backyard.
Joyce Gibson is one of those activists. A realtor, long-time resident and change agent, Joyce wants her neighbors on the southeast side to take a critical part in the area’s renaissance. She co-founded the Gateway Project to preserve solid, affordable homes surrounding the new development and improve the access roads to the Chicago Lakeside site so retailers, business owners and homebuyers feel secure about investing in the development.
Through the Gateway Project, Joyce works with real estate agents to make sure that properties in the area are sold to people who want to live and invest in the community. Project leaders work with banks to secure foreclosed and distressed properties along the “gateway” streets leading to the Chicago Lakeside development site. They also work with for-profit and not-for-profit developers to rehabilitate distressed properties then sell them at affordable prices. Maintaining a strong community is a critical part of these processes.
Joyce notes that it is important to dispel myths about what the changes will mean to current residents. Through meetings with church groups, condo boards and neighborhood associations, Joyce explains how current homeowners will benefit from the new investment. Many people are energized by the big ideas. Says Joyce, “We’ve had people after meetings tell us that they were thinking about moving because there isn’t going to be any change around here but, after hearing the presentation, they are excited about staying!”
Commercial building owners along the “gateway” are also starting to take notice: “[The Gateway Project team is] starting to get calls from property owners who hear about the reinvestment in the area and, rather than let their buildings sit boarded up, they are talking about putting some money into them and want to know if we can help them find tenants.”
Joyce is motivated by the potential for the community where she has lived nearly all her life: “Everything is possible. This is a blank slate. The development of Chicago Lakeside is a destination strategy – make this a destination and people will want to invest in the housing around it.”