Front Runners: Rob Ferrino's 47th Street Bronzeville Artists Lofts Breaks Ground

Madison Construction leads revitalization of the historic South Side Chicago corridor with new artist's space.

Photo by: Brian Fritz From left to right: Paul L. Gray, Project Superintendent of Revere Construction, Cheryl Noel, Architect of WRAP Architecture, Christopher Woods, President of Three Corners Development, Inc., Andre Guichard of The Guichard Project, Alderman Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, Frances Guichard of The Guichard Project, Rob Ferrino, President of Madison Construction, Lawrence Grisham Deputy Commissioner for the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development, Laura Weathered of Near North West Arts Council, Jonah Hess, Sr Acquisitions Manager at Mercy Portfolio Services. 

Crain's ranked Rob Ferrino's Madison Construction as the seventh fastest growing company in its Fast Fifty review. And for good reason: It seems Ferrino is quite capable of going head-to-head with other name brand developers in town. After taking a piece of the expanding Loop with its Academic Center for East-West University, his Madison team scored a gut-rehab loft development on the South Side. On a unseasonably chilly May 13th, they broke ground.

It’s exactly the type of project that attracts Ferrino, whose company was named contractor of the year by the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association and received the Chicago Neighborhood Development Award for its Lawndale Christian Health Center, both in 2013.  And it’s akin to a developer’s homecoming for the Buffalo, N.Y. native. When Ferrino launched Madison in 2001, it landed its first contract as consultants to the Harold Washington Cultural Center, right off Martin Luther King Drive and across the street from the Bronzeville Artists Lofts planned for 436 East 47th Street.

“As we get involved with projects, it’s more than just a building to us,” Ferrino explains during the groundbreaking ceremony. “It’s one of the reasons I left a large general contractor because I couldn’t get involved with this type of project in my previous life. But it means a lot to me to be able to develop and be a part of the community revitalization. Especially at a project that gave us our start across the street. It means a lot to us.” Some guys are company men. You could say Ferrino is a community man.

Architectural rendering of Bronzeville Artists Lofts A total of sixteen live-work spaces will be on the second and third floors, housing artists from multiple disciplines – from writers to painters and visual artists to media, even culinary arts.

On this job, Ferrino has partnered as general contractor and mentor to Lee Reid of Revere Properties, a young development firm that landed the Bronzeville project through a request for proposals from Mercy Portfolio Services, which manages HUD grants. When the small company ran into management and funding roadblocks, Madison was lined up to deploy its deep personnel bench and experience to keep the project on track. Reid says it’s a great mentorship: It grooms and preps his business to tackle bigger gigs with an award-winning team at the helm.

The total budget is $6.9 million, with the nut coming from federal funds through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Lawrence Grisham, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Housing and Economic Development, says they were on the hunt for good projects when they heard about the property from Alderman Pat Dowell of the 3rd Ward. “If it wasn’t for these stimulus dollars, projects like this just wouldn’t be happening,” he said.

“When the NSP took it over it was abandoned and in quite a state of disrepair,” says Christopher Woods, president of Three Corners Development, the development arm brought on board when Madison solidified the partnership with Revere. “We’re in talks right now with a cafe-bakery to round out the entire concept of the live-work space.”  Along with retail, the building’s transformation includes a rooftop garden, art programs for residents and the community and a permanent gallery. Andre Guichard and his wife Frances will reopen Gallery Guichard on the first floor which should offer a boon for pedestrian traffic and perhaps a tiny step to reclaim the area’s once vibrant past. 

Photo by: Three Corners Development The designers plan to keep the iron bars exposed in the units. The 1914 building was the location of Jones Brothers Ben Franklin, a black-owned department store and is situated in a historic corridor of African American life on the South Side.

Architecturally, the structure is remarkable, says project architect Ravi Ricker of Wrap Architecture who’s designing the space with wife and business partner Cheryl Noel. Incredibly, the whole building hangs from the ceiling's truss rods. It resembles a bridge. “Look at these giant bolts," Ferrino chuckles. "This is the first structure that I’ve ever seen that’s supported by the roof.” Ricker points out it’s something modern architecture achieved 50 years later, to get that clear open span, but these turn-of-the-century builders were ahead of the technology curve. "It’s kind of amazing,” he says. “We were surprised by it.”  

Laura Weathered of Near North West Arts Council, in charge of leasing up the building and managing its programs, says artists currently working in Bronzeville have first consideration and applications will be available in June for the year-round residences.

Close to 40 percent of the contract was awarded to minority-owned business participants, well over the 24 percent minimum requirements, and it’s on an expedited schedule to a ribbon-cutting by this November, says Yanet Garcia, V.P. of Design and Construction at Three Corners.

Ferrino underscores that all of this is a true collaborative effort. The actual contract bidding and designing of the building began in 2011, but the vision dates back even earlier. “Every step of the way, the Alderman’s office has been involved with this,” he says, referring to the indefatigable Dowell. Well before the call for proposals went out, and again after the project was awarded, town hall-style community meetings – known as charrettes – were held. The neighborhood residents have been involved from the very beginning and their ideas incorporated in the plans, according to Garcia. 

At the groundbreaking, Alderman Dowell stressed this was part of a larger revitalization initiative for the 47th Street corridor. “We were looking for an innovative approach to bring back a building that would enliven the street,” she said. “And I think the partnership between Madison and Revere Properties does that.” 

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