State plans to turn shuttered Southwest Side Kmart store into a shelter for migrants

Ald. Silvana Tabares, whose 23rd Ward includes the property, said she wants the local community to have a say on the process and safety concerns before it proceeds.

SHARE State plans to turn shuttered Southwest Side Kmart store into a shelter for migrants
A plane flies Friday over a building that used to house a KMart at 7050 S. Pulaski Rd. on the Southwest Side.

The state of Illinois is planning to use a former Kmart store on the Southwest Side as a shelter for newly arrived migrants.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

State officials are planning to turn a building that once housed a Kmart on the Southwest Side into a shelter for newly arrived immigrants.

But after being briefed about the state’s plans for the site at 7050 S. Pulaski Road, Ald. Silvana Tabares, whose 23rd Ward includes the property, said she wants the local community to have a say in the process before it proceeds.

“I have major concerns for the safety of the local community and the people who will be housed at this location,” Tabares said in a statement, adding that she’s urged state lawmakers to engage local residents.

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“We need a plan that ensures the safety of the community and its residents,” Tabares said.

State Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar, who represents the 13th Ward, also expressed concerns about the safety of the planned facility.

“I have serious questions and concerns about the safety and humanity of the proposed Kmart facility and its amenities,” Guerrero-Cuellar said. “I have asked state agencies to pause this project until they can ensure this facility is constructed into adequate housing for young migrant families.

State Sen. Mike Porfirio, who represents the 13th Ward, also said he’s working with the state to ensure that the community is kept abreast of the plan.

“I am communicating with the governor’s office and with his administration to ensure that all of the concerns of the community are addressed and that they are kept informed,” Porfirio said in a statement. “Along with other community stakeholders and colleagues at the state and local level, I am committed to making sure this facility is safe and secure for all involved, including the families we are welcoming to our state.”

It isn’t immediately clear when the building will begin accepting migrants. The mayor’s office and Illinois Department of Human Services didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The property is 96,268 square feet, according to a past presentation about the development. It was among a group of Kmart stores across the country that closed in 2016, according to media reports at the time.

Recently, a similar plan to turn a shuttered South Side elementary school into a shelter was met with controversy. The opening of that shelter was delayed for weeks after Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and residents in her ward pushed it back to allow for community input.

And when it finally opened last week, some residents stood in front of buses transporting the asylum seekers to the former James Wadsworth Elementary School, 6420 S. University Ave. More than a dozen Chicago police officers stood by as the immigrants were dropped off.

For months, the city has received more than 5,140 immigrants sent from the southern U.S. border on chartered buses from Texas to northern cities, including Chicago. In December, there were 1,531 new arrivals living at city shelters. In total, 3,936 have sought shelter provided by the city, Cook County and the state, according to city officials.

The asylum seekers have been temporarily housed in other shelters and hotels in Chicago and suburban Cook County.

A former Kmart, which is now vacant, located at 7050 S. Pulaski Rd. in West Lawn, is seen in this photo, Friday.

The 96,000-square-foot building located at 7050 S. Pulaski Road has been vacant since 2016. A recent proposal to house migrants at a South Side school was met with community opposition.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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