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Jim West: Improving the Urban Environment

by Chicago Agent

Being a part of the solution has always been a priority for Jim West. Raised in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood during a tumultuous time for the city and the nation, Jim West, owner and president of Westward Development Co., witnessed an important urban dichotomy.
As a young man, he grew up during the renaissance of one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods, but while nearby Cabrini-Green, the city’s attempt at progressive urban renewal, descended into neglect, poverty, violence and squalor. This exposure to the positive redefinition of his home, coupled with the frightening social realties across the way, created in him a unique dynamic — spurring in him a desire to improve the urban environment around him. He saw brighter potentials for people and neighborhoods and wanted to be part of the solution.

West’s first career choice was being a Chicago police officer, as he identified with the proactive community-oriented policing, feeling that he could make a positive impact on urban life. To prepare, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Loyola University and studied sociology, psychology and philosophy, examining every strata of society and understanding how people think.

During college, West learned more about people and society working as construction manager for his grandfather’s property company. He supervised demolition, construction and remodeling crews at various apartment and commercial buildings throughout the city. Working in rough neighborhoods, he toiled alongside and supervised immigrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds, learning first-hand about their hopes and dreams. West quickly became a father figure who helped them to overcome their language barriers and face many of the challenges plaguing workers in of that socioeconomic group.

It was at this time that West realized construction management, and not just police work, could meaningfully improve the urban environment. He saw how construction could renovate dilapidated buildings, create proud new structures and enhance the streetscapes and quality of life.

From this point on, West devoted his career to development and, since the early-1990s, created scores of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, stores, nursing homes and office buildings in Chicago.

West created Westward Development Co. in 1998 as a force for construction quality and positive urban change. His philosophy is to build superior housing and create livable communities that foster a sense of place within an urban context. Just as important, West strives to promote and enhance each neighborhood’s long-term sustainability.

To enhance his capabilities, West earned a master’s degree in construction management from Northwestern University, studying construction engineering and business. He became a licensed general, masonry and concrete contractor and joined Realtor and homebuilder associations.

In 2005, West recognized the contributions of two colleagues by forging a new ownership team for Westward Development, adding Principals Rob Keleghan and Chad Kowal, who double as Realtors with Century 21 Sussex & Reilly. Now, West handles only building design and construction while Keleghan directs marketing and sales, which ranges from project feasibility studies to product positioning to sales materials, advertising and offices. Kowal directs the finances, including project rationale, bank coordination, debt and equity.

Together, their goal is to build projects designed to improve the urban environment. The current major project is Cityscape Condominiums at 3911-3927 N. Western Ave. in North Center. Rather than constructing a massive front wall for the $35 million, 86-unit unit development, Cityscape Condominiums will be comprised of three buildings that appear as nine. Each section will mirror the existing neighborhood by embodying various Chicago industrial, loft, townhome and apartment styles from different generations.

Westward Development collaborated with Alderman Gene Schulter to design a clocktower near the intersection of Western Avenue and Irving Park Road, and incorporated many environmentally friendly and energy-efficient elements included a hydrotech roof for the buildings. Many ideas for the development came from North Center residents, as the partners personally interviewed hundreds of neighbors. West showed early renderings to the community and discussed opinions, concerns, missions and how Cityscape Condominiums could enhance the community.

The partners also met with neighborhood organizations like Friends of Revere Park and the Bell School Council, as they truly wanted to immerse themselves in the community and develop a series of homes that would truly reflect the character and identity of the residents. In addition, they also donated money to local parks and schools, sponsored youth baseball teams and participated in church fundraisers, street fairs and playground improvements.

Jim West currently lives in North Center with his wife and their three young children. He serves on the St. Benedict’s School Advisory Committee, the Wrightwood Neighbors Association CAPS program, the Old Town Chamber of Commerce and local ward organizations.

Jim West and Westward Development Co. take great pride in their work and their mission to improve Chicago’s urban environment.

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