Thursday, August 3, 2017

Latest dream to revive one-time South Works site, will this become reality?

The one-time site of a U.S. Steel plant at 79th Street and the lakefront is one that causes people to dream.
Barcelona Housing Systems has these dreams for the one-time South Works site. Many other developers have prepared similar sketches for what could be done with the former steel mill.
It is larger than the downtown area of Chicago, and it sits largely empty (although the giant concrete breakwall remains – too large for it to be practical to tear down). It is a real estate developer’s fantasy site in terms of wanting to build something there.

HECK, IF WE had Donald Trump interested in building more things in Chicago, he probably would have turned the site into Trump, the Park – a lakefront facility devoted to promoting his glorious public image.

But we don’t, which is why the site has been one of continuous speculation – including the most recent plans detailed this week by which Emerald Living of Dublin and Barcelona Housing Systems want to acquire the 440 acres of land where steel was once manufactured – and turn it into some 20,000 units of housing.

The latter company has a process of modular, environmentally-friendly technology that is supposed to make it financially practical to build large numbers of housing structures in a short period of time.

As for whether this plan will ever become reality, who’s to say? What I know is that the one-time U.S. Steel South Works site has had so much speculation about what can be done there during the decades since the steel mill there was shuttered.

YET NOTHING MUCH has become of it.

I remember when a deal was reached for Solo Cup Co. was going to build a plant on part of the land (there’s even one of those Jeffery Baer programs on WTTW-TV about Chicago neighborhoods that declares this the future intent of the site).

Most recently, a portion of the land was going to be acquired by the Mariano’s chain of upscale supermarkets so that they could build a grocery store that could service the nearby South Shore and South Chicago neighborhoods – along with my personal favorite Chicago sub-neighborhood; the Bush!

Then, there was the 12-year period in which McCaffery Interests developed a plan to turn the site into practically a new Chicago neighborhood – with its own housing, schools, retail shopping and a marina for the boats that naturally would be owned by the people who lived there.

WHICH MEANT IT was intended to be an upscale community that took full advantage of the proximity of Lake Michigan just to the east. A concept that bothered many of the local residents of the aforementioned existing neighborhoods.

Because those are blue collar areas that, in fact, include one of the oldest Spanish-speaking enclaves in Chicago. They were the kind of neighborhoods meant to house the people who actually worked in the steel mills.

Which, in fact, is why my own grandparents lived in that area. People could walk to work every day.

My grandparents are long gone from South Chicago. But the people who remain were the types to spew out the word “gentrification” as an obscenity – seeing any development as an effort to chase them out of the neighborhood where, in many cases, their families had lived for decades.

SO WHETHER THIS latest project can advance forward is going to depend on how it is presented to the public.

There actually would be one benefit to new housing being built in the area – much of the existing housing stock in South Chicago is old. The house where my maternal grandparents lived is now a vacant lot, but the structures up and down the block date back to that era.

My point being they are old, and some of them haven’t been maintained to an ideal standard. There could be a use for new structures – and something has to become of the site. Having it just sit there idly by is not realistic.

Even if there are people like one anonymous Internet commenter who said he wants the site left alone so that lots of new people don’t move in and screw up his isolated neighborhood. An attitude that is the perfect public policy recipe for a whole lot of nothing to occur for decades to come.


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