PARTNER PROFILE: Chicago’s Razzie Watson

Our partners include not just fellow developers, but community residents like Razzie Watson, who our construction company hired to help create new housing like this in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood.

While our partner profiles are usually devoted to developers with whom Brinshore partners, this column is a bit different – it features a Chicago resident who worked in his neighborhood as a construction worker and an ally as part of Brinshore’s commitment to creating quality housing along with quality employment opportunities in the communities in which we work. That makes him every bit a Brinshore partner, and the kind of neighbor and friend we all want in our communities.

Razzie Watson, who’s lived in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood since the 1950s, has seen it all. Raising his family within blocks of Douglas Park, Mr. Watson was there to witness the Jewish synagogues, schools, and cultural institutions in the 1940s and 1950s that made the neighborhood the Jewish heart of Chicago. Later in the 1950s, he saw the great Black migration that brought millions of African Americans to the area, and Mr. Watson was there when Martin Luther King arrived to raise awareness of the poor housing and living conditions that permeated the neighborhood.

Throughout the riots that devastated the area in the late 1960’s and sparked a decline in commercial activity and an exodus of the population, Mr. Watson remained steadfast in his commitment to the neighborhood. Over the course of 60 years, Mr. Watson has seen North Lawndale transform from a stable residential community to an area plagued by deteriorating housing stock, blighted public housing high rises and rampant safety issues. And in 2010, nearly 60 years after Mr. Watson first arrived, he took the opportunity to be involved firsthand in revitalizing the neighborhood when he was hired by McShane Construction to help build Brinshore’s Park Douglas development.

In a community rife with vacant lots, the development marks a significant transformation and a fresh start for the community. Park Douglas replaces the previously demolished Lawndale Gardens and Ogden Courts public housing complexes, and Mr. Watson’s participation in the redevelopment reflects Brinshore’s commitment to engage community residents in the neighborhood’s revival. Recognizing the sense of ownership that community residents take in local projects that benefit their communities, Brinshore makes it a point to hire locally for all of their developments.

Greg Olson of the Michaels Organization, which worked with McShane to hire local people for the construction site, had high praise for Mr. Watson.

“McShane stuck with the commitment to hire locally during the early days of the project, and their efforts paid off,” said Olson. “Razzie embodies why this kind of commitment to hiring local neighborhood people is so important. He has helped the project in so many tangible and intangible ways, learned a great deal and will likely be hired on future jobs. He is a stand-up guy who is always willing to lend a hand.”

The approach that Brinshore took to Park Douglas is fundamental to its vision to help construct sustainable, engaged, and vibrant communities. By partnering with organizations, contractors and stakeholders local to the development, Brinshore helps to ensure that the very best product possible is delivered by ensuring a mission-driven, civically-responsible approach supportive of – and supported by – local communities.

Peter Levavi, Senior Vice President at Brinshore Development, noted Mr. Watson’s contribution to the development.

“He has a great attitude and brings a commitment and passion to the project that is unique, a commitment only found in those who have lived in a neighborhood and seen its ups and downs,” said Levavi. “He is doing this for all the right reasons and has been a pleasure to work with. He cares about the project’s success, because his success is intimately tied to it.”

Mr. Watson first came to McShane as a local hire for the first phase of the $44 million redevelopment. This comprehensive mixed-income development is the product of an innovative partnership with neighboring Mount Sinai Medical Center, and brings 137 mixed income rental units to the neighborhood, replete with sustainable elements including a green roof, geothermal heating and cooling, and a community center with photovoltaic panels.

Designed by architects from the renowned firms Pappageorge/Haymes and Koo and Associates, the development brings a combination of classic features that complement the architecture of existing neighborhood buildings while incorporating green communal spaces, salvaged and repurposed material, and sustainable features. With 60 units reserved for public housing and another 49 funded with Low Income Housing Tax Credits, it provides affordable living spaces for existing neighborhood residents and luxury units that will attract people from all corners of the city and bring in new businesses and new jobs. Lagunitas Brewing Company has already committed to opening a second brewery in the Douglas Park area, and the construction of Park Douglas brought over 200 construction jobs and five permanent management jobs to the community.

Whether rehabbing foreclosed single-family homes in Evanston, Illinois or creating new mixed-income housing on empty land like that at Douglas Park, Brinshore is committed to ensuring that local people gain access to these local jobs – people like Razzie Watson, who with his family and his neighbors are the future of this community, just as they’ve been the backbone of its past.

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