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Atlanta firm picked for North Chicago redevelopment project

The MariJones Townhomes public housing along Sherman Avenue is located south east corner Dugdale Road 14th Street North Chicago. |

The Marion Jones Townhomes public housing along Sherman Avenue is located on the south east corner of Dugdale Road and 14th Street in North Chicago. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:14AM

NORTH CHICAGO — The Lake County Housing Authority has selected the Atlanta-based Benoit Group to redevelop property now occupied by the Marion Jones projects.

The Benoit Group will oversee construction, as well as co-own, under a joint venture, what could be a $100 million mixed-income housing development at Dugdale Road and 14th Street. The ultimate cost of the new housing will depend on whether LCHA can reach agreements with the city of North Chicago and Foss Park District to obtain adjacent parcels of land.

If only the 51-year-old public housing project, which includes 125 attached dwellings, is replaced, the cost will be $60 million. The Benoit Group was selected out of an original field of 11 contenders, according to David Northern, Sr., LCHA executive director.

“We’re happy to have them as a development partner,” Northern said Monday. “They have extensive experience internationally and throughout the U.S.”

The Benoit Group was named Jan. 25 over two other finalists — Chicago-based Habitat Company and Community Builders, headquartered in Boston — with the assistance of the community advisory Marion Jones Evaluation Committee. Benoit specializes in the development of mixed-income family, independent senior and HUD-subsidized affordable housing. It has also constructed student housing for major universities, including historically black colleges and universities. The company, which just broke ground on a mixed-income development in downstate Champaign County, will provide social programming to residents of the new development.

“Mixed income encourages what we call ‘Move to work,’” said Benoit Group CEO Eddy Benoit in a phone interview Monday. “We’re not coming in just to tear down and rebuild, but to give the existing community a new pride of place whereby people can grow out of the system. We don’t want new generations to become our tenants.”

The 298 current residents of Marion Jones will begin moving out of their brick townhomes beginning in May. Demolition will be completed by winter and ground could be broken in early 2014. Relocation assistance and moving expenses will be provided by HUD for residents in good standing on their lease agreements.

The relocations mean a likely loss of 127 students to North Chicago District 187 schools, according to Ben Martindale, interim superintendent, who said most school-aged residents will find new housing in the Round Lake area, Zion and Kenosha, Wis.

The district stands to lose $750,000 in state aid and could also take a hit on federal super impact aid, money the district receives in lieu of property taxes. The giant move will also cause a spike in the district’s mobility rate.

“Luckily, the kids can finish the school year,” Martindale said. “It’s always difficult for children to have to go to a new community. We will be reducing a lot of positions next year and this will play into that.”

The new development is expected to house a total of 600 residents, The units will be an equal mix of voucher, income- and market-based, with some made available for home ownership.

Funding for the development, which could also include a senior residences and light retail, will be a mix of federal dollars, bond financing and tax credits.

Both Northern and Benoit expect the new housing to spark economic development in North Chicago.

“The idea is to give residents a new sense of hope but more so, a development of this scale will hopefully become a catalyst to spur new development opportunities within the community,” Benoit said.

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