Officials celebrate demolition of low-income housing project, plans for new development

North Chicago and Lake County officials and other dignitaries gathered Friday morning to mark the pending demolition of the Marion Jones town house development, which will make way for a new affordable-housing complex.

They noted the history of the 54-year-old complex of brick buildings, but they also looked to the future and the opportunities new homes could bring to poor residents.

"I believe it's going to bring much-needed improvement," North Chicago Alderman Torrance Markham Sr. said before the ceremony. "It's going to help move North Chicago forward."

Built in 1961, the complex on Sherman Avenue is one of the oldest housing projects in Illinois. It's owned by the Lake County Housing Authority, which said the buildings had reached the end of their useful life.

That agency plans to replace the complex with a $37 million development. A 50-unit development for senior citizens will come first, followed by 186 units for families.

Residents who had lived in the town houses were relocated to other homes in Lake County and beyond last summer. They will be offered homes in the new complex, said David Northern Sr., the housing authorities CEO and executive director.

About 50 people gathered in a community building at the complex for Friday's ceremony. Speakers included Northern, Lake County Board member Audrey Nixon and North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham Jr.

"It is kind of sad to see it go," Rockingham said. "But what it's going to bring to our community is a positive."

Also addressing the crowd was Mary Pitts, a woman who lived in the Marion Jones complex for 45 years. She spoke of the bond the residents shared.

"We were a community," she said. "We looked out for each other. We loved each other. We took care of each other."

Pitts said she's looking forward to moving into a home in the new development.

After the speeches, the crowd went outside to watch a construction vehicle tear into the rear of one of the buildings. Some of the officials fired brightly-colored, metallic confetti into the air, too.

  Civic leaders fire confetti into the air Friday to celebrate the pending demolition of the Marion Jones Townhome complex in North Chicago. Russell Lissau/
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