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Greater Chatham Initiative receives State of Illinois Cultural District Designation for Mahalia’s Mile on Chicago’s South Side

NEDRA SIMS FEARS (center) receiving the designation from Gov. JB Pritzker and Cameron Joost, Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The State of Illinois is awarding a State-Designated Cultural District to Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI) for Mahalia’s Mile, from 79th and State Street to 79th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. For decades, Chatham and the surrounding neighborhoods have been one of the key cultural epicenters of Chicago’s Black community. Chatham is a remarkable community that claims many Black notable Chicagoans and was the home of gospel music pioneer and superstar, Mahalia Jackson.

As one of ten districts selected, this designation will reinforce the ongoing and future work by the Greater Chatham Initiative. Under the leadership of GCI Executive Director, Nedra Sims Fears, the process for framing and designing the cultural corridor has already started with a number of initiatives in place on this historic commercial street.

This includes:

• Mahalia Jackson Court, portal to Mahalia’s Mile launched in 2020, located at 79th/State, with outdoor space for respite, music, and community events. The Making of Mahalia Jackson Court video won a 2023 Midwest Emmy.

• Artists on the 9ine, arts incubator with studios and retail space, renovated and launched in 2022, located at 79th/Evans.

• Mahalia’s, a bricks-and-mortar and online store, showcasing Black artists and makers, launched in 2024, located in Artists on the 9ine.

• Historical, architectural, and food tours; several walking tours have been developed to highlight notable homes, buildings, restaurants, and other sites within Mahalia’s Mile and the surrounding area.

• FoodLab Chicago, a business support service, was created in 2020 and has supported 84 Greater South Side mature food businesses.

In upcoming months, Mahalia’s Mile will be graced with planters, banners, and public art welcoming its 23,000 corridor residents; 900+ employees along the corridor; six million transit riders (annual ridership for 79th St. bus plus 79th St. Red Line station); 12 million drivers (annual vehicle count for Dan Ryan 79th St. entrances/egresses) and 325,00 distinct annual visitors.

Mahalia’s Mile is an important commercial corridor in the community with many assets including a dozen cultural institutions and 93 businesses (including 14 restaurants), generating millions of dollars of annual spending along the corridor. Its western edge (79th/State) is a transportation hub with the CTA Red Line station and the Dan Ryan Expressway. The corridor has 77 buildings. Approximately 25% are historically and/or architecturally significant. The eastern edge, 79th/Cottage Grove is the only corner in Chicago where all the original 1911–1930 buildings are intact, and are a portal to the landmark Chatham-Greater Grand Crossing Commercial District.

Parts of the corridor were hit hard by disinvestment, the COVID-19 recession, and the decline in brick-and-mortar retail. The corridor has 180 distinct storefronts, of which 105 or 58% are occupied. “Branding and beautifying the corridor as a State Cultural District should drive more traffic, spending and enjoyment along the corridor. This should incentivize the storefront building owner operators to improve and lease the 75 or 42% vacant storefronts,” says Nedra Sims Fears, Executive Director of the Greater Chatham Initiative.

Place keeping 79th Street is one of Greater Chatham Initiative’s key objectives. Community and economic development are essential to the place keeping efforts taking place on Mahalia’s Mile, as well as the greater South Side. Current and former residents can support Mahalia’s pop-up shop and retail website, Both offer a curated selection of one-of-a-kind pieces reflecting the diversity and richness of black culture and creativity. The proceeds directly support artists, entrepreneurs, and small businesses creating culturally rooted products made by locals. More information about the pop-up can be found at:

In addition, Greater Chatham Initiative encourages all supporters to donate for the re-visioning of the 79th Street Mahalia’s Mile. These contributions will expand the creation of this significant project. Your contribution to Mahalia’s Mile can be made to:

Stay tuned for more updates as Mahalia’s Mile continues to grow as the corridor revitalization process advances. For more information about Mahalia’s Mile, check out

About Designated Cultural Districts

The State of Illinois Designated Cultural Districts program purpose is to:

• Promote distinct historical and cultural communities.

• Encourage economic development and entrepreneurship.

• Encourage the preservation and development of historic and culturally significant structures, traditions, and languages.

• Foster local cultural development and education.

• Provide a focal point for celebrating and strengthening the unique cultural identity of communities; and

• Promote growth and opportunity without generating displacement or expanding inequality.

About Greater Chatham Initiative

Greater Chatham Initiative started from community efforts to respond to the tragic death of Dr. Betty Howard in 2014 and has grown into an award-winning place-based community economic development organization. With Greater Chatham Initiative’s leadership, the future for our neighborhoods to thrive is possible and within reach.

The mission of the Greater Chatham Initiative is to strategically invest in the Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Avalon Park, and Auburn Gresham Chicago neighborhoods, so that they can continue being communities of opportunities and choice. Greater Chatham comprises Avalon Park, Auburn Gresham, Chatham, and Greater Grand Crossing. The 15-square mile area is roughly bounded by: South Chicago Avenue to the east, the Dan Ryan Woods to the west, 63rd Street to the north and 87th Street to the south. More than 117,000 residents, 5,373 businesses, 28,501 employees, 2 million annual visitors, and 18 million commuters who work, play, and travel in Greater Chatham.

The Greater Chatham Initiative is proud to have the following Mahalia’s Mile sponsors: AARP, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, City of Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Choose Chicago, Discover, Enterprise Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, LISC, Mars Wrigley Foundation, Pangea Foundation, Peoples Gas, and the State of Illinois.

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