Chicago picks team to redevelop Silver Shovel dumpsite on West Side
City officials have selected a Chicago-based partnership to put an industrial project with community improvements on the 21 acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.
For months, City Hall has busily marketed for sale prominent commercial stretches in the typically passed-over South and West sides, selecting plans that promise $365 million in project costs that otherwise wouldn’t be happening. It was a lift for neighborhoods lacking in good news, and yet there was a mystery.
What was going on with the biggest site of all dangled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative? That would be the nearly 21 city-owned acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue, an old industrial stretch that became part of city lore in the 1990s when it got a starring role in the Silver Shovel scandal. Alderpersons took bribes to ignore illegal dumping, and the site got debris piled high. It was an unsightly symbol of what happens at the intersection of corruption and indifference to poor neighborhoods.
Over the years, the city removed the debris. What’s underground awaits remediation. In late 2020, the city offered the location in a request for proposals, a category that lets it evaluate responses on a scale of factors, not the amount of a bid. The city got eight responses, winnowed to four last March. Then, nothing but confidentiality agreements.
Now it can be told — Lightfoot and her Department of Planning and Development are announcing Monday the land is going to a Chicago-based team of 548 Development and Related Midwest. It plans a solar-powered hub for light manufacturing that could offer more than 300 permanent jobs along with a park and an “innovation center” for workforce training and retail space.
What took so long? “There was a real push to get this right,” said Maurice Cox, the city’s planning commissioner. “We feel we got just the right mix of job creation and community benefit here.”
Other proposals were flashier. The first round of responses included one from the Chicago Cubs and Pritzker Realty Group that would have divided the property between an industrial building and a youth baseball camp. It was eye-catching, but community residents discounted the job potential. Maybe some were Sox fans. Another entry had kids playing baseball on an industrial rooftop.
Cox said the winning submission rose to the top on the strength of practicality. “They presented us a convincing financial proposal,” Cox said. It also has heavy minority participation. 548 Development is led by A.J. Patton, a Black entrepreneur who has pushed his way into real estate despite bank rejections. Patton struck an alliance with Related Midwest, known for luxury downtown high-rises and affordable multifamily homes.
The partners are getting the land for $1, and there will be city help, most likely through tax increment financing, for environmental liabilities expected to cost several million dollars. Critics might howl, but the deal promises a $38.4 million investment. Long ago, the property contained a rubber company and a die cast factory, according to city records. More recently, officials said, it had a Copenhagen snuff plant.
“It’s not a gift,” Patton said of the deal. Aside from the serious clean up, he said the project entails community-focused improvements coming at his group’s expense. These improvements include the North Lawndale Innovation Center — two buildings with space for local nonprofits — and a park along the CSX rail line that bisects the property. It’s the Altenheim Line, which planners eye for a linear greenway and trail cutting through East Garfield Park and North Lawndale. The developers also plan a mural to brighten Roosevelt Road.
The two industrial structures would each be close to 150,000 square feet. Patton said the goal is to bring in manufacturers drawn to the labor pool and the site’s proximity to the Eisenhower Expressway. He’s aware an Amazon-style warehouse — a less job-rich alternative — might be easier to snag because storage and shipping is a hot market. But Patton said his group “wants to be strategic” and the community’s alderperson, Michael Scott Jr. (24th), “has made it clear that whoever we bring in has to be a value add.”
The buildings will get solar panels because Patton has made sustainability a cornerstone. The group has promised that at least 40% of the construction work will go to minority- and women-owned firms. Partners include Lamar Johnson Collaborative, Ware Malcomb, Site Design Group and Milhouse Engineering & Construction.
The property is bounded by Roosevelt and Kostner, Kildare and Fifth avenues. As the city spun its wheels over the years trying to start something there, the land has been tossed into conversations about a movie studio, the Obama Presidential Center and a casino. Now, while financial terms and zoning still must go through City Hall’s process, officials hope construction will start in late 2022.
Patton contrasts the property’s sorry history with how the city is handling it now. “Here I am. I’m not well-connected, not a political donor, but I’m on the right team on the ground to get this done. That flies in the face of what that site has stood for,” he said.