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Thirteenth Ward Ald. Mary Quinn (wearing dark sport jacket) joins Culver’s officials and frontline crew in cutting the ribbon on the company’s new restaurant at 6541 S. Cicero. --Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

Thirteenth Ward Ald. Mary Quinn (wearing dark sport jacket) joins Culver’s officials and frontline crew in cutting the ribbon on the company’s new restaurant at 6541 S. Cicero. --Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

Cicero Avenue rebirth marches forward

Culver’s is latest to join parade

By Tim Hadac

A four-block strip of Cicero Avenue that once stood stagnant in dilapidated ugliness is catching up to its prosperous suburban cousin across the street.

Late last week, as Culver’s officials smiled for the cameras and cut the ribbon on their new restaurant at 6541 S. Cicero, they said they looked forward to a long and profitable run on an increasingly sunny side of the street.

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Thirteenth Ward Ald. Mary Quinn (wearing dark sport jacket) joins Culver’s officials and frontline crew in cutting the ribbon on the company’s new restaurant at 6541 S. Cicero. –Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

The new Culver’s, featuring a two-lane drive-through and inside seating for nearly 100 customers, has already provided jobs to some 92 men, women and teens. Most of them live within walking distance of the restaurant, claimed area franchisee and co-owner Guy Hollis.

Culver’s is located on land that for at least 15 years lay fallow. Before that, it was home to an auto rental company.

It is emblematic of the tenure of 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, who has made bringing jobs and economic development to the area a top priority.

Since he became alderman in 2011, Quinn has labored to transform Cicero Avenue, between 63rd and 67th Streets—in the long-booming shadow of the hotel, office and restaurant complex across the street in Bedford Park, a village led by a mayor (David Brady) with a reputation as aggressively pro-business.

In the last 10 years, vacant (or nearly vacant) lots on Chicago’s share of the strip have been filled in with Panda Express, 6501; Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, 6456; a rebuilt Dunkin’ Donuts, 6435; Taco Bell, 6631; a remodeled McDonald’s, 6430; and a new strip shopping center immediately north of McDonald’s—where the long-shuttered Jozo’s hot dog restaurant once stood.

One of those lots—where Malnati’s now stands—was home to a used-car company that Quinn said was home to dozens of semi-feral cats and was a source of complaints by neighbors in nearby homes.

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Thirteenth Ward Ald. Marty Quinn congratulates everyone who had a hand in making the Culver’s grand opening a reality. –Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

Yet the transformation has not been a breeze. An uncertain economy over the past decade, coupled with a notoriously slow-footed (and some say anti-business) City Hall, have made revitalizing Cicero Avenue a challenge, even with vehicular traffic numbers that would make most retailers’ mouths water. (About 80,000 vehicles pass by 65th and Cicero in a typical 24-hour period, Quinn said.)

The keys, the alderman said, are persistence and fearlessness in reaching out. In fact, Culver’s came about because Quinn “wrote a letter to [Culver’s co-founder] Craig Culver back in 2011,” Hollis said. “Craig told me to go bird-dog it. That’s when I met Marty and started us on this journey that’s led to this day of celebration.”

Hollis praised Quinn as ”good at building bridges and bringing people together. He has been a really big and valued supporter of ours…and that’s important because Chicago’s a challenge. It’s a big dog. It’s imperative for a business to have support.”

Quinn said more good things are in store for Cicero Avenue in the years ahead, as well as elsewhere in the ward.

“I am shameless in saying good things about this part of the city,” the alderman said. “My message to prospective business owners is, if you come here, if you bring jobs to the community and are a responsible corporate neighbor, you will prosper.”

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