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Developers build rosters for West Side title chase

The Chicago Cubs have designs on North Lawndale property at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue, but other contenders also propose a mix of industrial development and community services.

Streets and Sanitation workers clear trash from the 4300 block of West Roosevelt Road in December. The city has solicited developer interest in the property.
Streets and Sanitation workers clear trash from the 4300 block of West Roosevelt Road in December. The city has solicited developer interest in the property.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

The Chicago Cubs have their hands full with the competition this year.

That says nothing about this year’s race in the National League Central. It’s an outlook drawn from replies to the city’s call for interest in building on nearly 21 acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue, once a notorious and illegal dumpsite. The debris is gone, but there’s still environmental work to be done there, estimated at $5 million.

So it was striking that when the city advertised for developer interest, none other than the Cubs replied, and with something novel. The team, owned by the Ricketts family, paired with entrepreneur and real estate investor Penny Pritzker, former U.S. commerce secretary, to propose dividing the property between industrial development and a Cubs Urban Youth Academy. It would have ballfields and facilities run by the Cubs’ charitable arm that would teach skills and life lessons to local youth. The alliance is like a Ruth-Gehrig pairing of clout.

But the city heard from seven other teams, some with strong lineups. Matanky Realty Group partnered with the minority-owned Safeway Construction to propose a larger private development than the Cubs-Pritzker squad had in mind. The pitch includes a massive green roof for a baseball field and training center operated by BASE Chicago. It would get an inflatable dome for cold weather, according to the proposal.

It’s not a cheap proposal, and it requires city incentives. But James Matanky, CEO of Matanky Realty, said it responds to the imperatives the city laid out: creating jobs and neighborhood benefits. “We actually thought hard about what would work here and the wants and needs of the community,” he said. Matanky would seek tax breaks for a federal Opportunity Zone, which requires a minimum 10-year holding period for the property. “We look at this as a long-term investment,” he said.

A view of the property at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. An abandoned rail line bisects it.
Google Satellite

Matanky has a letter of interest from BASE Chicago, a West Side affiliate of a Boston-based nonprofit that blends athletic training with education and career coaching. Others on his squad include the North Lawndale Employment Network and Terracon, an environmental consulting firm that earlier analyzed the site for the city. The Mechanics Local 701 Training Fund wants to move its center there from Carol Stream. Matanky also has interest from Big Girl Cosmetics, which needs manufacturing space, and the Just Turkey restaurant chain.

A sidenote: BASE Chicago’s letterhead lists former Cubs boss Theo Epstein as its honorary chair. He might have an incentive to steal home on his old team.

Cleanup at the site poses a challenge. Matanky figures the cost is worth more than the land itself. City records show the land used to have rubber and die-cast factories.

This isn’t a case of the city seeking the highest bid. It’s a “request for proposals,” so the planning agency can consider community impact and design feasibility and quality.

Other contenders the agency will review include Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a savvy nonprofit that has brought jobs and energy to Pullman. With a roster that includes East Lake Management, Burling Builders and Black Men United, CNI is proposing industrial development of different sizes, some priced for small businesses. Its community piece includes employment training and an incubator for startups. No ballfields here.

Ciere Boatright, CNI’s vice president of real estate and inclusion, said the goals are jobs and support for new businesses. “We have deep experience in the community and we’re respectful, to ensure the benefits are spread evenly,” she said.

Veteran developer Dan McCaffery proposed distribution and warehouse centers with 60 units for “workforce housing” and a community marketplace. McCaffery has scored with projects here, such as the former Children’s Memorial Hospital sites in Lincoln Park, but he struck out when he took on the old U.S. Steel acreage on the South Side lakefront.

Related Midwest, backer of the megadevelopment on the Near South Side called The 78, would pair its industrial buildings with something called the Lawndale Innovation Center. The company is a Chicago real estate all-star, but this team’s bench strength could be lacking.

McLaurin Development Partners and others promised an athletic center and artist studios mixed with warehouses and cold storage facilities. Submissions lacking detail in city-posted summaries came from IBT Group and Jarad Investments with Nationwide Furniture.

Whatever happens, tax increment financing and other subsidies will be in demand. Ald. Michael Scott Jr., whose 24th Ward includes the site, doesn’t mind. “I want to get this project in the ground,” he said. “If we’re serious, the city is going to have to be a partner in this development.”

The Department of Planning and Development intends to pick a winner this spring after winnowing the field with community input. Developer presentations will be streamed on Feb. 22 and 23.

Batter up!

A view of construction debris dumped at the Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue property in 1996.
Sun-Times files