John Baird’s role in saving the DePaul neighborhood

The death of Baird & Warner‘s John Baird at the age of 98 is rightfully receiving a great deal of attention in both local and national real estate circles.

You can learn some of Mr Baird’s accomplishments, and a bit about his impact on Chicago, in the Tribune, Sun-Times and Chicago Real Estate Daily obituaries.

The Sun-Times story mentions Mr Baird’s involvement in a project at Willow and Dayton in the Ranch Triangle part of Lincoln Park / DePaul neighborhood, but doesn’t elaborate on its significance.

It’s hard to imagine today, but in the 1970s the beautiful Lincoln Park streets west of Halsted were troubled by gang crime, drugs and arson-for-profit and were rapidly deteriorating. The neighborhood had fallen so far that DePaul University was threatening to relocate to the suburbs, a move that would have doomed the area.

The city, with leadership from the original Mayor Daley, marshalled a number of efforts to revitalize the area. John Baird, together with architect Aubrey Greenberg, played a key role by quietly assembling nearly 4 ½ acres north and west of the intersection of Willow and Halsted and building Willow Dayton Place. The involvement of a player of Baird’s stature gave a host of small developers and rehabbers, myself included, the confidence to begin acquiring and rehabbing property south of Armitage, the toughest and riskiest part of the neighborhood.

When it was complete, Willow Dayton Place had 67 for-sale townhomes, 145 rental apartments and 12,000 square feet of ground-level retail / restaurant space in 11 buildings in the area bounded by Halsted, Dayton, Willow and Wisconsin. What had been a slum was well on its way to becoming what the website for the apartments, now rebranded as Halsted Place, accurately refers to as “a highly desirable location.”

Hindsight makes it easy to view the neighborhood’s success as inevitable. It wasn’t, and John Baird is due a large measure of credit for it.

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