City’s planning chief says South Works too big for one developer

Maurice Cox says the lakefront property needs a phased approach, with industry in the mix.

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Ore walls that remain on the South Works site because they were too costly to take down.

Ore walls that remain on the South Works site because they were too costly to take down.

Sun-Times file photo

The massive U.S. Steel South Works site along the lakefront, larger than downtown Chicago, is too big to turn over to a single developer and deserves a multi-phased approach that includes new industry, Chicago’s planning commissioner said Thursday.

Maurice Cox said the city’s past emphasis on finding a developer to take charge of the property and push forward a project that relies on new housing has been the wrong tactic. He said the site’s unique industrial heritage should form the basis of a new strategy for South Works.

“Imagine what would happen if there was a robust economy centered on the site. It would shift the center of gravity in the city,” Cox said on the Sun-Times’ “Fran Spielman Show” podcast.

“When some are pointing out that it’s as big as the downtown, you start to understand the absurdity of turning that over to a single developer,” Cox said.

U.S. Steel closed the South Works plant in 1992 and demolished it, leaving behind a 415-acre site along Lake Michigan roughly between 79th and 87th streets. The company has tried to find a single buyer for the land, but at least two housing-related mega-developments have collapsed.

The Chicago Tribune has reported Chicago-born rapper Common and financial backers want to put a film production and recreation complex on the property. Cox, however, said his Department of Planning and Development, which would review any zoning change for the site, has seen no viable proposal for South Works.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Steel declined to comment. The real estate agent for South Works, Larry Goldwasser, executive director at Cushman & Wakefield, likewise declined to comment.

The property has been cleared except for ore walls near a slip where ships used to unload their iron ore. It came to public attention in 2011 as a concert site for the Dave Matthews Band Caravan. The city in 2013 rerouted U.S. 41 directly to the location, hoping to spur investment.

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