"It kind of broke my heart," Doig said. "Being at the Park District, I was gone all the time. I worked 70, 80 hours a week, and I always had meetings at night, and I missed part of my kids' growing up." The experience "gave me a chance to reflect and prioritize."
Doig formed development company GenOne, which focused on rehabbing and selling buildings on the city's West Side, where Doig still lives. He later formed a partnership with the late Michael Scott, a longtime friend and at the time president of the Chicago Board of Education, to develop residential projects in the Austin neighborhood.
Soon after they began their business, the housing market went "off the cliff," Doig said. He started looking for new opportunities.
Pulling for Pullman
In 2007, Doig took over Park Banks Initiatives, the nonprofit arm of Park National Bank, a now-defunct community bank. The nonprofit was redeveloping historic row houses in Pullman and building new homes in Roseland and Englewood.
A year later, Park National bought the 180-acre Pullman Park site, tucked between 114th and 111th streets, with the Bishop Ford Freeway to the east and an industrial park to the west.
Park National ran into financial trouble after the 2008 federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac wiped out some $855 million in assets. It was seized in 2009 and acquired by U.S. Bank. The nonprofit was spun off in July 2010 and became Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, with Doig as its leader.
His next step was securing financing for the first phase of the Pullman project: rerouting Doty Avenue, creating water retention ponds and laying Wal-Mart's foundation.
Doig got a $9.5 million loan from U.S. Bank and $10 million from Wal-Mart for the foundation. U.S. Bank also provided $7.5 million in equity through a federal program. In return for the equity, the bank will receive $10.3 million in federal tax credits over seven years.
Once the Wal-Mart opens, Doig hopes it will anchor other retailers and create jobs and consumer traffic, making it easier to secure financing for future phases: additional stores, family restaurants, a 10-acre park, a community center and affordable homes.
Some of Doig's contacts showed up at a September event in Pullman to announce the state's contribution of $4.6 million from a federal program. Attendees included Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Warren Ribley, director of the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
The Pullman Park site sits on what was on the outskirts of George Pullman's industrial town, founded in 1880 with the idea of creating a model working-class society. Some families now living in those homes have mixed feelings about Doig's project.
The historic Pullman houses south of 111th Street are owned by a mix of black, white and Hispanic families. They are excited about the possibility of more retail, restaurants and coffee shops, but they mostly hope the new project will help showcase their neighborhood as a great place to live.
North of 111th Street, the mostly poor, black families say that Wal-Mart's 350 to 400 jobs and promised wages of 50 cents above the state's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour won't get the neighborhood back on its feet, but it sure will make a difference to have the superstore nearby.
"David is a very integral part of the community," said resident Melva Jean Tate. "He's a warrior."
As the recent tour of the site came to an end, the last rays of sun highlighted the immensity of the project. Afternoon commuters began to fill the Bishop Ford Freeway, Pullman's main connection to the downtown high-rises shimmering in the distance.
A year from now, Doig hopes, that same artery will bring shoppers to Wal-Mart and pump life into the neighborhood.
"There is not a single thing that's going to change the world; it's got to be all of it working together," he said. "You need Wal-Marts and you need hospitals and health centers and all of that working together."
President, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives
Family: Married with children, Olivia, 19, and Clarke, 16. Lives in the city's Austin neighborhood.
On being "the white kid from the suburbs": "We still have racism in our society, and I think that it still creates barriers for people. But the longer you are in a place ... the less that that becomes an issue."
Why he raised his children in Austin: "I remember feeling I lived a pretty insulated life." His wife grew up that way too. "So pretty early on, we decided that we wanted our kids to be much more complete in terms of having friends with different ethnicities and having broader kinds of experiences."
Soldier Field feedback: "It met or exceeded expectations for what I envisioned. People can debate the architecture; that kind of goes with the territory. It's definitely something bold and different. … Some people love it, and some people hate it."
Aiming to bring entrepreneurship to Pullman: "That's kind of my mission. I don't know if we are going to get there, but that's my hope. I feel like in a lot of ways, this phase, the Wal-Mart and stuff, it's good. It's meeting a need. But it's not that kind of indigenous, local, grass-roots, entrepreneur kind of thing."
David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives
Head of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives hopes Pullman Park development will pull in jobs, growth
Early experiences primed him for controversies, from Soldier Field renovations to plans for a Wal-Mart in Pullman Park area
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.