Led by Gwendolyn Hatten Butler, Graham Grady, and Leon I. Walker to advance equitable development and inclusive growth, the Chicago Emerging Minority Developer Initiative (CEMDI) aims to source and build a pipeline of community-focused developers from African-American, Latinx and other minority communities to participate in commercial real estate development projects city-wide, including projects prioritized by City of Chicago’s INVEST South/West initiative.

The ubiquitous presence of tower cranes is often cited as a visible sign of Chicago’s vibrant real estate market. Each tower crane represents a significant development, in excess of $100 million, and in many instances over $1 billion of construction activity and related professional services. Last year, approximately 60 tower cranes punctuated Chicago’s skyline, and yet none of these development projects were led by minorities. Few, if any, minorities participated in any meaningful way in the development of these projects. This is a discouraging fact, particularly in a city as diverse as Chicago, which is 1/3 African American and 1/3 Latinx. This disparity highlights a significant absence of inclusion and equity in the commercial development industry.

Similarly, and as further evidence that no near-term solution exists, none of the mega-projects currently being developed in Chicago have minority leadership or even minority joint-venture participation at the developer/owner level. Minority developers face a number of challenges to participating in large-scale commercial real estate development, the roots of which lie largely in structural racism and disinvestment in minority communities, including:


• Poor access to and high cost of debt capital

• Weak ties to sources of equity funding

• Limited experience on large-scale commercial real estate projects


Creating pathways to success for minority developers who have so far been unable to enter the commercial real estate industry is critical to ensuring they are prepared for equitable and inclusive participation in future large-scale development projects. CEMDI was created intentionally to fill this gap and envisions teaming and joint ventures, new development opportunities, the construction of physical assets, the creation of new community amenities and other outcomes that will lead to educational and experiential benefits to a wide range of stakeholders, including the minority professionals executing the commercial real estate projects, their vendors and sub-contractors. and residents in the communities where they are located. By leveraging the unprecedented initiative of marshaling the resources of the City of Chicago’s INVEST South/West program, CEMDI will create a new model for equitable and inclusive development.