Thursday, July 18, 2019

One-time ‘South Works’ steel mill could remain a ridiculously-large lot

The one-time site of the U.S. Steel plant on the South Side, known as South Works, has sat vacant for decades, and there have been so many bits of speculation that have been made about what could be done with the site.
The old 'South Works' plant
Because as a spot right on Lake Michigan stretching from 79th to 91st streets, some make note of the fact it is larger than downtown Chicago.

THERE’S DEFINITELY ENOUGH room to build something of significance. Which may well be why Mayor Lori Lightfoot included the site amongst the five spots in various parts of Chicago that are under consideration for the casino officials want to build so as to help jolt the city’s economy further.

Which might make sense, except for the fact that throughout the years since U.S. Steel gave up on the idea of making steel at the plant there have been so many suggestions for what ought to be done.

A factory for Solo Cup. Development of an entirely new upscale neighborhood in between South Chicago and South Shore. Building a housing development that would incorporate unique building techniques so as to create more affordable housing.

And now, slot machines and roulette wheels galore. People could literally come to the shores of Lake Michigan and lose their shirts big time on the site where the steel that was used to build this country was actually produced.

THEN AGAIN, MAYBE this is just another idea destined to become a mere fantasy. It could be that a decade from now, the land along the lakefront in the 8000s could still sit vacant – with only that giant concrete barricade standing.
Tearing down that wall would be tough

A remnant of the old steel mill that remains only because trying to tear it down would be ridiculously costly. Not at all practical.

Better to build whatever you want to do around it and leave the barricade in place as some sort of historic remnant to the kind of people who think certain things ought never to change.

Now personally, I have always taken an interest in the site largely out of a sense of family interest. My own parents were born and raised around the South Chicago neighborhood and both my grandfathers were workers in the steel mills.

WITH ONE GRANDFATHER literally working at South Works because his neighborhood home was within walking distance of the old steel mill. My father can tell tales of the past when the steel mill was thriving, and all the grime and pollution it caused were tolerated because the filth was perceived as evidence that people were working.
What will someday fill this space?

Jobs were available. Times were good!

Now as I understand it, much of the difficulty in actually turning this site into something of future use is because of all the environmental contamination the site endured from the steel mill presence.

Anybody who tries to build something of use there is going to get stuck with the cost of environmental cleanup. And it ain’t a gonna’ be cheap to do – to put it mildly.

WHICH COULD BE why that site winds up not being taken too seriously by those people who want to see the big bucks generated by gambling – which they’ll insist on calling “gaming” because they think it has a less-sordid ring to it.

And they’ll go about lambasting anyone who insists on including the “b” even though I’d argue it’s merely being honest about what exactly casinos bring to a community.
So I don’t doubt Chicago city officials eventually will get around to locating a casino somewhere. They’re not going to let other communities have their gambling without getting their share – even though I’m inclined to think that we’re reaching the point of having too many casinos and that they’ll all manage to cannibalize each other.

But it could well be that the filth and grime that my grandfather would have viewed as evidence of ‘progress’ is really the factor that keeps the site from ever becoming a significant boost to the neighborhood, and to Chicago as a whole.


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