AUBURN GRESHAM — Carlos Nelson used to drive past the “lifeless” building at 839 W. 79th St. almost every day for years.
Home to a drab public aid office in the 1970s, city officials bricked over the 18-by-18-foot windows on the ground floor and boarded up the second and third floor windows when the office closed. The nearly 100-year-old terra cotta building sat vacant for decades — but Nelson saw potential for revival.
After seven years of work, Nelson looked on Friday as Auburn Gresham’s four-story Healthy Lifestyle Hub welcomed dozens of neighbors with a Hollywood red carpet, live music and healthy food.
Community leaders and local officials cut the ribbon in October but Friday’s extravaganza was for neighbors to roam the halls for the first time, said Nelson, executive director at the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation.
A “dark and dismal” sight in Auburn Gresham is now a beacon of light offering medical care, nutritious food, community space and other services steps away from neighbors’ homes, Nelson said.
“I used to see this building and the boarded-up windows, and it hurt to think of what others thought about our people,” Nelson said. “When I visualized the Healthy Hub, I wanted to be able to bring life into this building. We wanted to light up 79th Street, literally and figuratively. Today is a day of excitement.”
‘You’ll See The Light Emanating From This Building’
The Healthy Lifestyle Hub will replenish a neighborhood long denied necessities and amenities, Nelson said. The 79th and Halsted intersection alone has lost a Save A Lot grocery store, a CVS pharmacy and a Bank of America branch.
A UI Health Clinic and Urgent Care Center on the second floor can provide medical, dental and mental health services to more than 30,000 patients per year, Nelson said. Nearly 500 patients have come in even without any advertising for the clinic, Nelson said.
The third floor is home to Heartland Alliance and the UIC Neighborhood Center, with tutoring services and small business workshops provided by the university.
Bank of America will soon open on the first floor, years after closing the nearby location. A high-tech kitchen and training center on the same floor, sponsored by a $600,000 donation from the Chicago Bears, will give