The historic Pullman neighborhood is getting 38 units of affordable housing inside a new $18 million artists’ enclave—some 124 years after Pullman railroad car workers went on strike over the company’s refusal to lower their rents after cutting their pay.
The Pullman Artspace Lofts, a new apartment building to be built between two long-abandoned Pullman workers’ housing units, sits on three-quarters of an acre on Langley Avenue, just south of 111th Street. The three-story, 32,000-square-foot complex sits on land that’s been vacant for 88 years. The construction itself marks the first new residential development built in Pullman in nearly half a century. It’s unique because it will house 2,000 square feet of community space intended to be used as an art gallery, meeting place, classrooms, and community room. It’s expected to open in early fall 2019.
The Artspace Lofts is a home-grown project in a neighborhood that has more than its share of artists, including painters, musicians, filmmakers, sculptors, and ceramicists, said architect Ann Alspaugh, a board member and past president of Pullman Arts, a neighborhood nonprofit whose volunteers have worked on the development for the past eight years.
“It’s [the result of] a lot of hard work by a lot of people,” she said, noting that the project required meeting and even exceeding local and state landmark and historic district requirements, obtaining unconventional funding, and conducting detailed feasibility studies.
Alspaugh volunteers as a community member; the project architect is the Chicago firm of Stantec (formerly VOA). Alspaugh said she’s satisfied that the lofts fit in with the surrounding historic architecture. The developers modified the plans after residents expressed concerns and after reviews by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
“The first thing we want to do is to start an annual art fair,” said Alspaugh, who moved to the Pullman neighborhood in July 2010 with her husband, musician Q Kiser, from Rogers Park. The couple bought a three-bedroom house with a front and back yard, a basement, and a garage for what a condo in Rogers Park would have cost. “It also gives me a door into living amid historic architecture and helping restore historic architecture,” she said.
Construction of Artspace Lofts is expected to start in September, with tenant applications expected to start being processed next summer. The rents are set so that they’re affordable to families at or below 30, 50, and 60 percent of the area median income, which is $38,370 in Pullman, compared with the citywide median of $53,006. That means a studio apartment would rent for $360 a month for a single person who lives at or below 30 percent of the Pullman average, while a two-bedroom unit would rent for $910 a month for a family at 60 percent of the median income.
The complex will house three studio apartments along with 16 one-bedroom and 19 two-bedroom units, and the development will have 25 bicycle spaces and a parking lot for 17 cars. (Street parking is expected to accommodate another 20 cars.) The developers and a board made up of neighborhood artists will review potential tenants’ applications with an eye toward accepting people involved in creative or artistic work who want to be a part of a community devoted to that.
“It’s not about the quality or kind of [art] work a person is doing; it’s about seeing a demonstrated commitment to a creative pursuit and wanting to be a part of a community that supports” that goal, says Andrew Michaelson, director of property development for Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops affordable places where artists can live and work.
Pullman Arts, the neighborhood nonprofit, will curate and operate the gallery space for artists’ showings, performances, and meetups. The Lofts’ hallways and corridors are also intended to be space where residents can create murals and other works, Michaelson said.
The construction is expected to employ 120 people, and the developers have hired a consultant to ensure that women, local businesses, and people of color are hired to help with the work, said Ciere Boatright, director of real estate development and inclusion at the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, part of the development team for the Lofts project.
The project was not without some opposition. Some residents have objected to the design plans in a neighborhood with strict landmark guidelines but officials said the project is moving forward.
The lofts are expected to generate $13 million in low-income tax credits and another $1.2 million in historic tax credits. Alderman Anthony Beale (Ninth Ward) says they’re part of a “renaissance” in the Pullman neighborhood that’s seen $300 million in investments and the creation of 1,300 jobs in the past decade. The neighborhood still suffers from the blight of foreclosures—many elderly residents lost their homes during the housing crisis—but more properties are being rehabbed, and some houses are selling for more than $280,000. “The opportunities are growing every day,” he says. “I just need more restaurants and hotel chains.”
While Pullman’s population declined by almost 16 percent between two five-year periods (from 2006-2010 to 2011-2015), the number of people living in poverty also dropped by nearly 16 percent; six-figure households grew by 58 percent, and the number of college graduates jumped by nearly 10 percent, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council’s analysis of the latest U.S. Census data.
The most dramatic increases in college graduates and six-figure households took place in an area bordered by the Bishop Ford Freeway to the east, 103rd Street to the north, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and 111th Street to the south. The area includes the 180-acre Pullman Park, a $125 million mixed-use site that has created 800 new jobs.
Pullman Park includes a 150,000-square-foot Walmart, a Method soap factory, a new Whole Foods distribution center, a second greenhouse for hydroponic greens grower Gotham Greens, and a Potbelly Sandwich Shop that anchors the Gateway Retail Center. That’s in addition to the historic Landmark Inn and Greenstone Church, both renovated, and the iconic Clock Tower and Administration Building, which has been renovated into the visitor center for the Pullman National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama in 2015.
“Everyone is getting lifted up by the positive things that are coming,” Alspaugh said.