Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Is South Works the equivalent of galaxy far, far away from rest of Chicago?

Perhaps it is all too appropriate that the one-time site of the U.S. Steel South Works plant is being offered up as a location for that museum filmmaker George Lucas wants to create.

What will ever become of the one-time U.S. Steel South Works site?
For there are times that the southeastern corner of Chicago itself gets treated as being a place, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”

FOR THAT SITE on the lakefront (from about 79th Street to about 95th Street) is one that has sat vacant for decades, with the residue of the days when steel was made there still manages to pollute the surrounding neighborhoods.

Who knows what will ever become of the more than 600 acres of land (larger than the Loop)? Will anything ever become of the site? Will it remain a vacant hole in Chicago that most people aren’t aware of because they rarely ever set foot anywhere near the city’s 10th Ward (of which the site is the northernmost edge)?

In my case, I have always taken an interest in the area because it is my birthplace. I have some relatives who still live there. South Chicago and the surrounding communities are the “old neighborhood” to me – the one where I used to travel to when visiting my grandmother.

Who was never comfortable living anywhere else.

FOR YEARS, THERE has been talk of turning the site into a housing development – one that would take advantage of being on the shore of Lake Michigan. Creating the possibility of some homes with boat slips. You could literally go sailing into the Great Lakes – an option many people in much wealthier communities on the north lakefront would love to have.

One fantasy South Works proposal.
But there was always hostile reception from people who lived in The Bush – the nearby neighborhood that was about as un-elite as the Lakeside development would have been upscale.

And with the economy being what it is and new development everywhere being on hold, the South Works site remained a place where real estate developers would look and dream while nothing was accomplished.

All this delay eventually caused U.S. Steel (which still owns the land) to give up. The developers with dreams were forced to admit that the Lakeside community (which looks nice in architectural drawings) will never become reality.

Will this become another fantasy project?
THAT IS WHAT led to this week’s political speculation that the lakefront site could now somehow be turned over to the Lucas project – the one in which he wants to develop a museum paying tribute to assorted artistic mediums, but which I suspect many people mistakenly think will be some sort of Star Wars-themed amusement park.

Personally, I’d be amazed if the Lucas people would be interested in the site – in fact, I fully expect they’ll find some other city in which to develop their project.

Chicago probably lost its chance to have the Lucas museum when a judge thwarted plans to build the structure in the parking lots just south of Soldier Field.

Tenth Ward Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza may have told the Chicago Sun-Times how the site is closer to downtown Chicago than Versailles is to Paris, but I suspect Lucas wants something with an up-close view of the downtown skyline (and not the one you need binoculars to look at like the one at the South Works site).

THIS MAY BECOME a site too isolated for Chicago to develop – largely because a lot of our political people have such a small vision of what is truly the city.

This is long-gone from 10th Ward site
Which is a shame, because the site is so open and spacious the potential to do something there is great – for people who can think on a large-enough scale.

That is the problem. Take the fact that developers wanted to use part of the land for the proposed Barack Obama presidential library and museum – an idea that was rejected because the presidential aides were skeptical anything else would be built there.

A judgment that seems to be more correct with each passing day – one that hurts us all by depriving us of what could be prime lakeshore for public use and winds up being the equivalent of a gaping hole (a cavity, of sorts) in the Chicago smile!


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