Aspiring to Change Lives – Oak Park

Once an abandoned and dilapidated school building, the bustling corner of Madison and Central Avenue is now a construction site and a symbol of a community-led renaissance that has been underway in Austin for years.

This intersection will become the future home of the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation, a central location for job training and support that will improve the pathway to further post-secondary education and financial opportunities for youth and Austin families.

This is a significant moment for Austin as the community’s vision comes to fruition. The Aspire Center will catalyze Austin’s economic development and overcome the community’s legacy of disinvestment, limited opportunity and fragmented services.

Since the 1970s, public and private divestment has caused a crisis state of severe social and economic decline in Austin, and as a result, the population has declined by 17% (over 20,000 residents) since 2000.

Austin has a large youth population with 15% between the ages of 25 and 34 and 13% between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau and 2019 forecast. However, more than half of working-age youth have struggling to find a job. , and many do not have a high school diploma.

The combination of a poor education system, declining student numbers, rising cost of living and stagnating wages has led to an unstable economy. These conditions have created a great need for workforce training and life skills development.

Fortunately, hundreds of city leaders have rallied around a powerful vision for a healthy and prosperous future for Austin, set out in the Austin Forward Community Quality of Life Plan. Together. (AFT) which was published in 2018.

ASPIRE grew out of the AFT plan and is a collection of projects that includes the renovation of the vacant Robert Emmet Elementary School into the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation. ASPIRE will also bring to the community a new learning, health and recreation center called The Aspire Education & Wellness Campus; new programs and support to increase enrollment at Austin College and Career Academy; and Aspire Housing, a tiered approach to providing homeownership assistance, as well as new or remodeled units for sale.

Both ASPIRE and the AFT Plan were created by and for Austin, and were made possible through an unprecedented level of collaboration and wide-ranging support.

After two years of community engagement, planning, research and resource development, the ASPIRE initiative will finally launch with the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation.

The Aspire Center will serve as a premier workforce training destination. It will be:
● Create links between programmatic initiatives and shared facilities;
● Develop and support local career path resources for high-demand skills training
economic sectors, such as advanced manufacturing; and
● Support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The now closed 69,100 square foot Chicago Public School building on the three-acre site at 5500-5536 W. Madison Street will be transformed into a state-of-the-art mixed-use facility with a business incubator for startups, a high-tech manufacturing training center and a financial opportunity center.

In a future phase of development, a new 10,000 square foot shopping center will be built on the old school parking lot. Adjacent, a public square will be shared with the Aspire Center. Opening in 2025, the mall will feature a mix of local and national restaurants as well as retail businesses, such as a bank. Local and minority-owned businesses will be prioritized.

The project team is creating long-term capital that will allow the development of the Aspire Center to be nearly debt-free. Strategic investments from committed funding partners along with above-market rental rates from commercial tenants will enable the Center to offer non-profit tenants below or below market rents. Substantially all of the revenue required to operate the center will be realized within five years of operating expenses, future capital maintenance and improvements.

“The community has always felt that the school was a very visible symbol of our failures to meet the needs of our young people and to put young people on the path to having a career, to being employed, to improving the quality of life of young adults in the city of Chicago, particularly in Austin and the West Side,” said Morris Reed, CEO of Westside Health Authority, owner of the Emmet property.

Reinventing the old school, the site will no longer serve as a reminder of failure and once again help shape people’s lives in a positive way.

Keep reading for more information on this exciting new addition to our community!

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