BCBSI groundbreaking

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (center), elected officials and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSI) representatives take part in a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 6 to celebrate a BCBSI multi-purpose facility in the Marshfield Plaza in Morgan Park. The center, expected to open in mid-2020, will be sited at a Target store that closed in February. Officials said the BCBSI will provide free health and wellness classes, education on how to better use health insurance, and 550 new jobs. (Review photo)

When the Target store in Morgan Park closed in February, residents and elected officials were outraged.

At the groundbreaking for a new Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSI) center at that location on Nov. 6, the mood was different.

Dozens of people gathered at the site, located in the Marshfield Plaza at 11840 S. Marshfield Ave., to celebrate a multi-purpose facility that officials said will provide free health and wellness classes, education on how to better use health insurance, and 550 new jobs.

Maurice Smith, president of Health Care Service Corporation, of which BCBSI is a division, said he is proud to expand from BCBSI’s downtown offices and create a “hub for our community” on the South Side.

“We’re going to offer economic opportunity and also areas where people can actually physically get better,” Smith said. “We’re going to serve people in the Morgan Park area, Roseland, West Pullman, Beverly, Mt. Greenwood—all across the city. No neighborhood left behind.”

According to officials, the new facility, located just west of Interstate 57, will open in mid-2020. It will include BCBSI’s second Blue Door Neighborhood Center, where services will include health literacy and education classes focused on nutrition and diseases, connections to other resources such as access to food and transportation, and a meeting space that can be used by non-profit organizations.

The first Blue Door Neighborhood Center opened in Pullman in April. Visitors do not need to be BCBSI members to utilize the centers.

Smith said the location will also feature two courtyards as BCBSI transforms a retail center into a “solution center.”

“I want to make a positive impact on health, beyond the walls of hospitals and physician offices, and this is a start,” Smith said. “Our expansion into the South Side is leading the way for others to see the value, the opportunity and the options beyond downtown.”

Target closed its Morgan Park location, as well as one in Chatham, after announcing the closures in October 2018. Company officials said the decision was “based on the performance of the stores and is not about a neighborhood or geography.”

Many people expressed their outrage, saying the decision was about race and made without notice.

Target was one of the anchor locations of the Marshfield Plaza when it opened in 2010, and 115 people worked there.

Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked Target officials to reconsider their decision, and several elected officials met with Target representatives in November 2018, but to no avail.

A Marshalls store in the plaza closed in January 2019.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said people were upset at Target closing because of the “lack of notice” and “the devastating effect that this would have on the economy,” but she believes BCBSI can add more value.

“The fact that Blue Cross Blue Shield now is coming into this site, and not only claiming the space, but bringing far more jobs and far more opportunity in this space,” Lightfoot said, “is like a story of the phoenix rising from the ashes.”

She believes the center’s services will be vital to nearby residents.

“These are resources that many of us take for granted,” Lightfoot said. “But, the reality is they have been historically limited in some communities. This is about reversing that trend.”

Lightfoot also commented on the Invest South/West initiative that she announced in late October, in which $750 million in public funding will be allocated to 10 neighborhoods on the South and West sides of the city in the next three years to revitalize commercial corridors.

She said development should not just take place downtown.

“The future of Chicago, of course, lies downtown, but it also lies in neighborhoods south of Roosevelt Road and west of Ashland Avenue,” Lightfoot said. “Again, today underscores the importance of making sure that we expand economic opportunity and growth to all of our neighborhoods and not just concentrate it on the North Side. That is the Chicago that we want to see. That is a city that we know is possible.”

According to 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin, whose ward includes the BCBSI center, Target’s closure “left us devastated” and wondering, “What will we do with all this space?”

She turned to her faith, she said, and God answered her prayers with the arrival of BCBSI.

“Now, we have hope; we have a breath of fresh air,” Austin said. “We have something we can look forward to out in the 34th Ward—the far South Side of Chicago.”