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It started with Dearborn Park, in 1977. Chicago Bears owner George Halas donated 50 acres of abandoned railroad yards to the city for redevelopment, and the neighborhood apartments and townhomes built along landscaped walkways was an instant success. The rebirth of the South Loop was underway.
Now the community is one of the city’s most vital and attractive. Vacant warehouses have been replaced by high-end lofts and condos, and upscale shops and restaurants are popping up to meet the needs of residents.
But all is not shiny and new in the diverse South Loop community. The expansive vintage spaces of Printer’s Row, once the heart of Chicago’s printing and publishing industry, have been transformed into high-end lofts, and the landmark buildings that contain them now include inviting shops and restaurants. The colorful gate at Cermak and Wentworth has been welcoming visitors to Chinatown since 1975, but the neighborhood has been home to much of Chicago’s Asian population since the early 20th century.
Grant Park and the Museum Campus attract thousands of tourists every day, but for South Loop residents, it’s all right in their front yard. Tennis courts, ball fields and playgrounds provide recreation space for the neighborhood, and the lakefront bike path is a popular spot on summer weekends. Three of Chicago’s most important cultural institutions are included in the Museum Campus: Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History.
Grant Park hosts music festivals and other events on most summer weekends. Columbia College also provides entertainment for neighborhood residents, from theater to dance to poetry readings. The neighborhood’s literary reputation gets another boost each June when Lit Fest brings dozens of well-known authors to the Printer’s Row neighborhood.
In addition to vintage lofts and planned developments like Dearborn Park, the South Loop is home to dozens of high-rise condominium buildings, virtually all built in the last ten years. The condos have been hot sellers among Loop workers who are thrilled to be able to walk to work, and empty nesters moving back from the suburbs to take advantage of the city lifestyle.
Recent condo sales have mostly been in the $300,000 to $450,00 range, with some smaller 1-bedrooms and studios under $200,000. Condos and penthouses in super high-end developments such as One Museum Park have sold for as much as $5 million.
Walking is the favored mode of transport in the South Loop, with plentiful cabs a close second. But the CTA Red Line and several bus routes also make the quick trip to the central Loop and to other parts of the city and O’Hare and Midway Airports. Scarce parking makes driving difficult.
Shopping, Dining and Nightlife
With one of the world’s premier retail districts just blocks away on State Street, you wouldn’t think shopping should be a problem in the South Loop. But in the early stages of the area’s development, residents longed for a place to pick up groceries on their way from work, or grab a cup of coffee in the morning.
Now their wishes have been granted. Food shoppers choose from two local grocery chains, as well as Whole Foods Market. Big-box stores such as Target, Home Depot, and Staples make it easier to pick up necessities, and smaller local shops and boutiques provide the luxuries.
The restaurant scene has made similar strides. Neighborhood coffee shops and delis, ethnic cafes and upscale dining from some of the city’s most prominent restaurant developers now can be found in the South Loop. The new Showplace Icon Theater allows moviegoers to enjoy high-end food and cocktail service before, after or even during the show.
Part of the Chicago Public Schools system, South Loop School includes an early childhood center and a regional gifted center. Test scores have been on the rise since 2002. Perspectives Charter School is also located in the South Loop, with innovative programs for 6th to 12th-graders.