Efforts to restore a historic Bronzeville building known as The Forum got a major boost this week when the Chicago City Council voted to rezone the property and reopen it to commercial use after sitting vacant for decades.
Built in 1897 by architect Samuel Atwater Treat, The Forum stands next to the Green Line station at the northwest corner of 43rd Street and Calumet Avenue. The property served as an assembly hall and community hub for South Side social clubs and civil rights organizations. The Forum's ballroom hosted legendary blues and jazz performers such as Nat King Cole, Muddy Waters, and Milt Hinton.
The Forum closed its doors in the 1970s and the brick structure deteriorated. Bernard Loyd, a Bronzeville neighbor and owner of Urban Juncture community development corporation, stepped in to purchase the historic property in 2011 when it came under threat from an emergency demolition order. Since then, Urban Juncture has focused its energies on stabilizing the crumbling 30,000-square-foot building and planning for its rebirth.
The newly approved zoning change will allow the property to be redeveloped into restaurants, live performance venues, a banquet hall, an art gallery, and a bookstore. The plan will be carried out in three phases starting with renovating the complex's west annex, which will be completed in mid-2022.
Phase two includes reactivating the boarded-up retail spaces on the first floor of The Forum Hall proper which are expected to open in the first quarter of 2023. The third and final phase will revitalize the second-floor assembly hall and the north annex storefronts by the end of the fourth quarter of 2023 if funding is available.
The project is expected to cost roughly $20 million. Wednesday's City Council vote allows Urban Juncture to access a $250,000 state grant to continue renovation work, according to Block Club. The Forum was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019, which makes the property eligible for historic preservation tax credits.
The team behind The Forum's renovation hopes the project can serve as a catalyst for revitalizing 43rd Street's transit-served commercial corridor. Already, plans are in the works to bring a $100 million, 99-unit mixed-income apartment development dubbed 43 Green to the lot directly across the street from The Forum.
"What ought to be the most vibrant retail area next to the train is blocks of blighted and vacant land," Loyd told Curbed Chicago last year. "But The Forum is still there. It is the only building that remains intact from the Black Metropolis era. It's a unique link to the past, but can also inspire the future."