New Gresham Healthy Lifestyle Hub is good for the neighborhood and 79th Street's future

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There was a time when West 79th Street was the lifeblood of the Auburn Gresham community — a retail strip that offered everything from food to furniture, and from education to entertainment.

Then came the oft-told tale of decades of economic disinvestment beginning in the late 20th century. And although 79th didn’t suffer as badly as some other commercial streets, such as 63rd in Woodlawn and Englewood or North Lawndale’s Roosevelt Road, the thoroughfare lost quite a bit over the years.

So it will be good to see the Gresham Healthy Lifestyle Hub officially open Nov. 11 in what had been an abandoned four-story furniture store at 839 W. 79th St. A ribbon-cutting was held Friday.

The brainchild of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp., the multi-purpose facility will feature a University of Illinois Health center, a Bank of America branch, a pharmacy and a teaching kitchen sponsored by the Chicago Bears.

The mentoring group Big Brothers Big Sisters will have an office there, as will Mikkey’s Retro Grill restaurant.

The health care component is especially key. Camellio Lincoln, senior project manager of the Hub, said the area lacks preventive and immediate-care facilities.

“Currently, education about immediate and urgent care is not really out there,” Lincoln said. “So people are still going to the emergency rooms, which is very expensive.”

And the effort puts a handsome 1920s terra cotta building back into service.

“It’s very prominent in the neighborhood,” Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp., a non-profit that has done much over the past decade to help stabilize 79th Street, said of the building.

“Unfortunately, 25 years of a hulking building like that being vacant is not a good thing,” he said.

Across the street from the Hub, construction has started on a $43 million, three-story residential and retail building, built on a long-vacant lot at 838 W. 79th St., under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West program.

The mayor’s 3-year-old initiative is aimed at reinvesting in flagging business districts on the South and West sides.

“Right on 79th in the middle of the despair and the disinvestment that was [there] for 50 years, we knew that it would catalyze other development,” Nelson said of the Hub.

And we wish it continued success. A reborn 79th Street is of course good for Auburn Gresham — and it provides hope that similar transformations can happen in disinvested neighborhoods across the city.

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