Little Village developer Hilco moves forward on warehouse construction, final demolition at Crawford site

Community organizers continue to protest demolition at the site two months after the West Side neighborhood was coated in dust

SHARE Little Village developer Hilco moves forward on warehouse construction, final demolition at Crawford site

Rafael Cervantes, 72, of Little Village, protests against Hilco near the site of the closed Crawford power plant near West 33rd Street and South Pulaski Road, Thursday afternoon, May 7, 2020. A subcontractor demolished a smokestack at the plant in April, bringing a giant plume of dust to the neighborhood, making it difficult to breathe during the coronavirus pandemic. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The developer of a controversial warehouse project in Little Village said it plans to move forward with construction even as community activists protest the ongoing demolition of an old power plant that blanketed the community in dust two months ago.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners said Friday that it could begin construction as early as next Friday of a warehouse distribution center that will be leased to Target.

In an email, the developer said the building, known as Exchange 55, will “be constructed using insulated, loadbearing, precast concrete wall panels and a structural steel frame. Vertical construction work will include steel erection, precast wall installation, roof construction, and related infrastructure.”

The building will replace the Crawford power plant, which is being torn down in phases. A botched implosion demolition of a smokestack at the plant left Little Village covered in dust Easter weekend, adding to community groups’ anger over the development. Last week a turbine structure the city said was unsound was demolished.

The last remaining structures at the site will be taken down “no earlier than Monday, July 6, 2020,” Hilco said in its statement Friday. “The demolition of these structures will be conducted using a manual process that does not utilize an implosion.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office that it was closely monitoring the project and requiring extensive outreach to the community in advance of the next phase of demolition and new construction.

“Robust City oversight for this project will not end here, and we pledge to continue our efforts to closely monitor this project while there is construction activity taking place,” the city said in a statement. “Should the developer not comply with City standards onsite at any time or act in a manner that puts the public health or safety in danger, the City will not hesitate to take immediate action in holding them accountable.”

Activists worked for years to shut down the Crawford coal plant, which they blamed for asthma and other respiratory health issues among nearby residents. In 2012, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Crawford and another coal-fired plant in Pilsen closed. 

Residents say Emanuel promised to work with them to bring an environmentally and community beneficial development to the Crawford site but that didn’t happen. In 2018, residents were outraged to find out Hilco purchased the land and intended to develop it into a distribution site for online orders, a business that will bring hundreds of diesel trucks to the site at 3501 S. Pulaski Road every day, they say.

Residents were further outraged when Hilco won real estate tax breaks that could amount to $19.7 million over 12 years. Some Chicago politicians have questioned the tax break especially in light of the Easter weekend demolition fiasco. A proposed ordinance would allow Chicago to rescind such tax breaks if a developer is found to endanger the health and safety of residents.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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