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Habitat for Humanity Looks to Make Old Ace Hardware a Community Center

A garden on the roof. A job training center. Adult Basic Education primer class. These are just some of the ideas Habitat has for those Joe Orr Road properties.

Remember when Chicago Heights Patch posted a photo of the old Ace Hardware and ? Well, is working on its own idea for the place.

While many have suggested the city populate the strip mall, located in the 100 block of Joe Orr Road, with retailers and restaurants, Habitat Executive Director David Tracy and Development Director Melvin Thompson have something a little more creative in mind. 

“Our dream is for that to become a community center," Tracy said.

With being the only current occupant of the strip mall, Tracy said he envisions the community center taking up all of the space surrounding his store. 

Thompson elaborated on what each space would become, should Habitat get its wish.

"The Ace space would become the community center," Thompson said. "The tax service and where the nightclub was, that could become any number of things. It could become an incubator for small businesses. It could become a place where other non-profits would have office space. It could become a technology center."

But its not just the store space that Habitat hopes to see put to use. Even the roof of the property has potential, according to Thompson.

"Why not have a community garden right out here on the roof of the Ace space?" Thompson asked. "I see a community garden as a perfect opportunity to work with students."

The duo has already spoken with Heights residents about the future of the property and has even mentioned it to Mayor David Gonzalez. 

"We’ve done some research," Tracy said. "We’ve talked to people on the street just to ask them, ‘if there was a community center where the Ace Hardware used to be, what kinds of activities would exist there?”

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Tracy and Thompson both made it clear that they don't plan to take the place of of any existing community centers in Chicago Heights, noting the value of the and the .

"They’re in neighborhoods, and they serve the neighborhoods well," Tracy said. "We’re not suggesting that our community center would replace them. It would compliment them."

The key difference with this new center would be an emphasis on getting people jobs. Tracy and Thompson plan to partner with local businesses that are looking for people with a certain set of skills. This center would help out-of-work Heights residents develop those skills.

Thompson used the Ford Motor Plant on Lincoln Highway as an example. 

"Ford added another shift to their workforce and they are having problems getting the specialized labor they need because the people that are applying don’t have these basic computer skills," Thompson said. “We could ask Ford ‘What do you need?’ Then we get those resources and put them in that center and get people trained to start working there.”

Habitat also hopes to partner with in the interest of priming residents without a high school education for the school's Adult Basic Education program.

Attracting Businesses

With Chicago Heights having lost several businesses in past years, some might say a community center should not be as a high a priority as a major retailer or restaurant. 

Thompson said he thinks the center could help serve that purpose as well.

“I saw where people commented about what should go there,” Thompson said. “They were all great ideas, and I think a restaurant could be spawned from a center like this. Once business owners see where people are flocking, they’ll want to be here.”

Going Forward

So how do Tracy and Thompson plan to bring their dream to fruition?

They have already started contacting potential supporters and partners in the project. , Habitat will need to convince the city government that its idea is a good one.

"We are working on renderings to show how the exterior could be modified to remove the vestiges of Ace Hardware and also some concepts for creatively using the interior space," Tracy said Monday. "Once we have those, we will move forward with a presentation to the City Council."

Tracy said he hopes to have the renderings complete in September.

If you're interested in learning more about Habitat's plans for the Joe Orr Road properties, contact David Tracy at 708-828-7761.

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Dan August 16, 2012 at 02:04 PM
We do need tax revenue first and foremost but no business that needs that much square footage is going to want to locate in a dilapidated old building like that one. There are many vacant buildings to choose from in the south suburbs, many in better shape and some in better areas. This place will sit empty for years, maybe forever. Boarded up and grafitti covered is where it is headed. Better to have it occupied.
Renee Klyczek Nordstrom August 16, 2012 at 02:56 PM
It is important to use creative thinking when trying to use abandoned buildings in the community. Although this may not benefit the tax base there are many potential benefits to the community, individuals, families, and businesses. The focus of programming to help build skills for potential employees will strengthen the workforce base here in the community. Partnering with local business and educational facilities will help strengthen business, education, and community ties. This type of community center has the potential to create positive impact on the community. Never underestimate what any positive movement can provide for individuals, families, businesses, and communities.
siciliangal August 16, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Although I believe in the idea of providing a facility in order to teach skills to those that need jobs, I also think that the younger people in Chicago Heights need a place to go to instead of on the streets. Why don't you consider a sports facility for all ages where the youths could go for physical activity, use their minds on competitions and to hang out and have fun rather than in the streets where they are subjected to laziness, fighting and violence?
Lucy August 17, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Unless the city is willing to move Restore to a different location and try to market that entire space from Dixie to Chicago Rd I agree with Dan - if you look at only the Ace location there are not many retailers that will be interested. As far where the younger people can go - doesn't the park district provide places for them to have physical activity?
Lee Malizia August 18, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I love the idea of training people for certain trades. That is a big need being fulfilled. Jobs is what people need. Sounds like a win, win to me. Perhaps a retailer will come after they see the new life this "community center" would bring. Perhaps you need a new name "Village Center for Jobs Training" or just "Village Center". It's going to take a village to get this going. If you wait for retailers to come, it's not going to happen. Bloom Township is a good example. Does anyone remember when a developer wanted to build townhomes. He was run out of town. They wanted retailers too. And the roof top garden with kids being involved? Brilliant.

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