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$10 million second Chicago Prize from Penny Pritzker and Bryan Traubert to West Garfield Park community
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$10 million second Chicago Prize from Penny Pritzker and Bryan Traubert to West Garfield Park community

An initiative designed to boost the life expectancy of residents in the West Garfield Park community was awarded the second Chicago Prize, a $10 million grant competition established by the Pritzker Traubert Foundation to help revive neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

More than 20 West Side community organizations formed the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, and plan to create the $50 million Sankofa Wellness Village, replacing vacant lots with a fitness center and health clinic, after-school care facilities, a credit union and a business incubator, as well as job training facilities and pop-up groceries, amenities little seen in the neighborhood since the 1968 uprising after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. left behind burned-out commercial buildings and homes.

“West Garfield Park has one of the lowest life expectancies on the West Side,” said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of West Side United. “This project will be a one-stop shop, with a wellness center as the focal point, where the community can access care and address every factor that impacts life expectancy.”

“We’re hoping to break ground on the wellness center by the end of the year and cut the ribbon for the whole village by 2025,” she added.

Foundation officials envision their prize competition, launched in 2019, will do more than simply fund a scattering of projects. Each award is meant to kick off economic activity and spark interest from other investors in the chosen neighborhoods, said President Cindy Moelis.

“Ten million may seem like a lot of money, but when you’re talking about communities with this level of disinvestment, a lot has to happen,” she said. “We’re hoping these investments bring others to the table as well.”

The 60,000-square-foot wellness center for West Garfield Park, currently a vacant lot on West Madison Street, will provide health care to 6,000 patients every year through Erie Family Health Center, and thousands more will access fitness programs and day care services from YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, Jaco said. Other partners include New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, the Community Builders and Rush University Medical Center.

The new credit union will help 10,000 residents open bank accounts, while hundreds of others will get job training or learn how to start new businesses. And since finding fresh, healthy food is now difficult, the collaborative will also open pop-up groceries until it can attract a permanent grocery store to West Garfield Park.

“We don’t even have a grocery store because Aldi closed in October,” Jaco said, “so our initiative will at least ensure the community gets the bare necessities.”

There were five other finalists for this year’s grant, and they won’t be shut out, said Bryan Traubert, the foundation’s co-founder and trustee. Each was led by local community groups or developers judged to have the expertise to attract other financing and see projects through to completion and will receive $2.5 million. In addition, the foundation will continue helping the finalists, including Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, which plans to launch a new affordable housing project and performing arts theater in its South Side neighborhood, to secure other investments.

“Every single one of these applicants will be far better off,” Traubert said. “We’re going to stay involved with them until their projects are funded.”

Out of the six finalists for the first Chicago Prize, awarded in 2020, three eventually secured full funding for their proposals, and two others are getting close to completing their capital stack, Moelis added.

“This is about putting a spotlight on them,” she said.

Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., a partner in the coalition which won the first prize, said the award brought notice to their $52.8 million project, which transformed a vacant, four-story 1920s-era building near 79th Street and Halsted Street into a community and healthcare hub, and to the surrounding community. The group will also close this quarter on a nearby vacant lot and transform it into an urban farm.

“Getting the $10 million was a huge catalyst in getting us to the finish line, but what it also did was make corporations aware of our organization and the community,” he said. “Whirlpool Corp. came calling, Kohler Corp. came calling, Discover Financial Services came calling, and then the Chicago Bears adopted the Auburn Gresham healthy lifestyle hub as their own.”

The Bears and Discover kicked in a total of more than $700,000, while Whirlpool and Kohler supplied the development with equipment and fixtures.

Development is accelerating in the neighborhood, Nelson added. Evergreen Real Estate Group just broke ground across the street on 838 W. 79th St., a new affordable residential building, and will soon begin work on a similar building one block east, part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West program.

“The impact of this has gone beyond what we ever anticipated,” he said.

Penny Pritzker is an entrepreneur, civic leader, and philanthropist, with more than 30 years of private- and public-sector experience in numerous industries. She is the founder and Chairman of PSP Partners and its affiliates, Pritzker Realty Group, PSP Capital, and PSP Growth. From 2013–2017, she served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration. Penny founded Vi Senior Living (formerly known as Classic Residence by Hyatt) and co-founded The Parking Spot and Artemis Real Estate Partners and Inspired Capital Partners. She is the former executive chairman of the Board of TransUnion, and is a past Board Member of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Marmon Group, and LaSalle Bank Corporation.

Penny is also a board member of Microsoft and Icertis, chairman of the board of trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, co-founder and board chair of Chicago-based civic-tech organization P33; a member of the Harvard Corporation, President Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Aspen Strategy Group and the Aspen Economic Strategy Group and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Advisory Council; and a co-chair of the Cyber Readiness Institute. Previously, she served as a Board Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Board of Trustees of Stanford University, the Harvard University Board of Overseers, and founded Skills for America’s Future and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. Penny served on President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and his Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Penny earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard University and a Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration from Stanford University. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Bryan Traubert, and has two adult children.

Bryan Traubert is a civic leader who has been deeply involved in Chicago’s public sector for the last two decades. A board certified ophthalmologist for over 30 years, Bryan received his Bachelor of Science from The Citadel and his MD from the University of Illinois. He completed his ophthalmology residency at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, and a fellowship in clinical medical ethics at the University of Chicago. He spent 2016 as a Fellow at the Distinguished Careers Institute at Stanford University.

Bryan is a Trustee and the Chairman of The Pritzker Traubert Foundation. In 2007, Bryan founded Chicago Run, an innovative running and fitness program that now serves over 16,000 Chicago Public School students annually. He also launched Take the Field, a public-private partnership that built 12 state-of-the-art artificial turf fields in underserved communities in Chicago, as well as founded and serves as a Board Member of the Chicago Parks Foundation.

Bryan currently serves on the boards of Chicago Public Media (Vice Chairman) and the Chicago Community Trust (Executive Committee). He is also Chairman of the Board of the National Park Foundation and a Trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Bryan is the past Chairman of Marwen and of the Renaissance Society. He was appointed in 2010 and served through 2015 as President of the Chicago Park District Board. From 2009 – 2013, he served on the White House Fellows Commission.

Bryan enjoys running, cycling, tennis, skiing, gardening, theater, contemporary art, and architecture. A longtime resident of Chicago, he is married to Penny Pritzker. They live in Chicago and have two adult children.

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