On Sept. 8, the Chicago Community Development Commission voted to allow he Chicago Department of Planning and Development to put out bids for the redevelopment a long-vacant industrial site in North Lawndale. 

The land — which is located between Roosevelt Rd., Kostner Ave., 5th Ave. and Kildare Ave. — is owned by the city, which is aiming to help spur redevelopment through a mix of industrial and commercial projects. 

Instead of having each developer approach the city one-by-one, multiple developers will be invited to submit bids, and the city will choose the best proposal based on factors such as community impact and job creation. The bids are due back on Dec. 15, but it’s not clear when the city will select a winning project or when something might be built.  

The process is similar to what the city is doing as part of the Invest South/West community redevelopment initiative; except, in this case, it was requested by Ald. Michael Scott (24th), who wanted the process to be more transparent. 

The 21-acre property is made up of north and south halves separated by the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad embankment running through the middle. While most of the buildings to the west of it are either commercial or industrial, the other three sides are mostly residential. 

The site has been vacant  for over 35 years. In 2015, West Side community leaders and elected officials tried to make the case that the site would be suitable for President Barack Obama’s presidential library. Washington Park on the South Side was eventually chosen for the library.

In 2016, Chicago-based  Clarius Partners LLC proposed putting three industrial buildings north of the train tracks and three commercial buildings – one of which would house a grocery store – south of the tracks. An April 10, 2018 brochure of the development showed a more scaled-back version of the plan, with two industrial building, a retail building and a grocery store. 

The city was willing to sell the property to Clarius, but one of the conditions was that they and their tenants would hire at least 50 of their employees from the community. During the Sept. 8 Community Development Commission meeting, Ethan Lassiter, the city planner for the west region, said that the deal ultimately fell through because “the milestone requirements were unable to [be] met by developers we engaged in this process.”

The city departments and governing bodies traditionally tend to defer to aldermen about what kind of development gets approved in their wards, which is why developers tend to approach the aldermen first. Lassiter said that Scott has received a number of proposals and that he “wants to create a transparent process” to figure out which developer gets approved.

Maurice Cox, a commission member and the city’s Planning and Development Commissioner, said that, if the process is successful, ” it may become a norm, that allows the aldermen in partnership with the city to proactively select development proposals.”

When evaluating the proposals, the city will be looking at several factors. According to Lassiter’s presentation, those factors include the number of environmental and noise impact, local hires, opportunities for ex-offenders and the rate of pay, among others. 

Lassiter said that the city is taking cues from the Comprehensive Neighborhood Framework plan for Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood, which has a redevelopment focus that entails food production and distribution facilities being buffered from existing houses by live-work buildings and greenways that would reduce flooding by absorbing stormwater. 

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...