A born and raised Chicago South Sider, Leon Walker saw the opportunity there from a young age, and he saw the impact of residents and commercial businesses leaving. After attending college in Michigan, he took a variety of corporate commercial real estate jobs, ending up at Jones Lang LaSalle in Los Angeles. His path back to the Windy City and to the Hall of Fame came after his father, Dr. H. Leon Walker, passed away unexpectedly and he found himself at a crossroads: to either continue with his corporate job or come back to Chicago. The desire to return to his hometown won out.
He focused his development work in the communities he grew up in as a kid, including Roseland, Morgan Park, Burnside and Calumet Heights. He founded and became managing principal at DL3 Realty Advisors, where he has led a variety of innovative development projects: the Whole Foods in Englewood, Jewel Osco in Woodlawn, Roseland Medical Center, the Discover call center in Chatham and the Blue Cross Blue Shield call center in Morgan Park, to name a few. These developments have helped to bring additional jobs to the area and raised home values, among other ripple effects. Over the next 10 years, Walker and DL3 Realty aim to create 10 million square feet of new commercial space and bring 10,000 jobs to the south side.
Walker believes all communities have the potential for success, and his award-winning Venture Development™ model delivers positive social outcomes as well as strong financial returns to those neighborhoods. He is leading a new wave of impact investing in Chicago with large-scale transit oriented residential projects that blend hundreds of new market and affordable housing units with quality retail.
Outside of his development work, Walker also amplifies diverse voices in the industry. After realizing there were many cranes throughout the city, but very few managed by people of color, he worked to make the change he wanted to see. He co-founded the Chicago Emerging Minority Developer Initiative (CEMDI), which is helping to build the next generation of African American and Latinx real estate developers in Chicago through mentorship; the program connects emerging leaders with development firms.
Walker also sponsors the DL3 Realty Impact Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to underrepresented students pursuing a graduate certificate in real estate development at the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University. Through the scholarship, he also mentors recipients to help them break into the industry.
Walker’s dedication and determination to make all of Chicago’s neighborhoods vibrant, diverse places of first choice shows throughout his career and his work. Congratulations, Leon, on your Hall of Fame induction!
Check out Leon’s speech from the 139th Annual Inaugural Gala.