An Interview with Salon Member Ciere Boatright

Ethical Redevelopment Salon members Victoria G. Smith Ellison and Ciere Boatright sat down to discuss Boatright's work at Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.

In her role as Program Manager, Boatright focuses on all aspects of CNI's Real Estate Development activities, including community planning, pre-development, financing, contracting, construction oversight and project close-outs. Boatright splits time between large scale commercial projects, like Pullman Park and Halsted Parkways in Englewood, and smaller scale affordable homes preservation projects in the Pullman area.

Ellison, a Chicago native raised in Bronzeville, is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Social Service Administration with a concentration in Community Schools at the University of Chicago. She is an emerging scholar activist and plans to pursue a doctoral degree. Her research interests include critical race theory, black feminism, the relationship between education and housing, and community engagement.

Victoria Smith: Can you about tell me about your current role?

Ciere Boatright: I’m a project manager at Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI).  I’ve been with CNI for a little over three years.  As project manager I get to work on some really interesting and impactful projects ranging from developing grocery stores in food deserts to developing retail, a community center, industrial development and affordable housing.

VS: Can you tell me a little about CNI?

CB: CNI was formed in 2010 to coordinate resources, economic development and neighborhood revitalization efforts in Chicagoland’s low-to-moderate income communities. CNI seeks to revitalize neighborhoods and create jobs by developing high impact projects, providing financial resources to entrepreneurs and sustaining long-term community partnerships. CNI also partners with stakeholders to restore, preserve and adapt vacant and abandoned buildings and historic properties – an essential step in neighborhood revitalization.

VS: What project are you most excited about working on at the moment?

CB: That’s a tough one. CNI is working on several impactful, really cool projects, but I’d have to say I am most excited about the Pullman Artspace Lofts, a mixed-use affordable live/ work space for artists and their families, the project is being developed in partnership with Artspace Projects, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, and PullmanArts. The Development Team selected a site located on Langley Avenue, just south of 111th Street, consisting of approximately 18,500 square feet of vacant land book-ended by two historic apartment buildings. The site provides the opportunity to integrate historic preservation with cutting edge new construction and create an iconic group of buildings that anchor Pullman’s eastern boundary. The development will consist of 38 affordable live/work units, exhibition space, and community space.

Artists rendering of the Pullman Artspace. Image courtesy of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. 

Artists rendering of the Pullman Artspace. Image courtesy of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. 

VS: Can you tell me about the history of Pullman?

CB: Pullman was originally developed as an area where worker housing was located for the Pullman Company. The neighborhood was divested from the Company by court order in 1907. Since then, Pullman has been largely a working class Chicago neighborhood. In the late 1960s, a local chamber of commerce proposed razing south Pullman in favor of a light industrial park. Local residents, organized by the Pullman Civic Organization, responded by securing city, state and national historic landmark status to save their community.

VS: What has the designation of Pullman as a landmark status meant for the neighborhood and its residents?

CB: Pullman has attracted significant attention to protect and promote its historic assets. On February 19, 2015 President Obama designated the Pullman Historic District a national monument. The goal of the Pullman Historic District is to preserve and interpret the significant labor, industrial, social, civil rights and architectural history associated with the Pullman legacy.

Among Chicago’s 50 city landmark districts, Pullman is the only one that also enjoys state and national landmark status. It is the only one anchored by a state historic site. One of the oldest landmark districts in Chicago, it is, by a significant margin, the largest – fully 10 percent of all city landmark properties are in Pullman. Each year, more than 50,000 visitors come to Pullman for its annual House Tour, Garden Walk, state historic site events, guided and self-guided tours. Pullman is also garnering recognition as a unique place to live and work. In 2011, Pullman was designated one of the country’s 10 Great Neighborhoods by the American Planning Association.

VS: When you are not in the office, where is your favorite place to spend time in Pullman?

CB: At The Pullman Café’ having a locally (Pullman) grown Gotham Greens salad and the café’s amazing lemon bar.