Cubs-Pritzker tandem benched as city culls North Lawndale plans

After reviewing community remarks, the city’s Planning Department has left four development teams still competing for vacant property at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.

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Part of the vacant site running northeast from Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue, as seen last December.

Four groups remain in the running to develop nearly 21 acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

City officials have drawn up a short list of four investor teams vying to develop nearly 21 vacant acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. They narrowed the field after North Lawndale residents emphasized the site should attract substantial job growth with a creative design and involvement from minority-owned companies.

One prominent contender, a proposal from the Chicago Cubs with business leader Penny Pritzker, failed to make the cut.

The Cubs’ charitable arm had joined with Pritzker Realty Group to suggest splitting the property, the largest empty parcel on the West Side, between a youth baseball academy and an industrial building. Evaluations from residents, summarized on the city’s web links for the project, questioned whether the plan would create enough jobs to suit community needs. Others wondered about participation by minority-owned firms.

Proposals making it to the next review stage generally emphasized a larger industrial complex and a site for community use. One from Chicago developer Dan McCaffery included a residential element — 60 units of what he termed “workforce housing.”

A submission from Matanky Realty Group included a baseball field on the roof of an industrial building. A city-written summary of residents’ comments said the proposal “feels novel if both challenging and tacked-on.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said Tuesday, “We believe in the promise of this academy and hope we can work with the city to identify another location.” A Pritzker representative did not respond to a message. Also eliminated from consideration was a joint plan from nonprofit developer Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, known for bringing jobs to Pullman, and East Lake Management.

The Department of Planning and Development pledged to consider residents’ comments in deciding who will get the city-owned property. Once associated with the 1990s Silver Shovel scandal involving illegal dumping, the land still requires an environmental cleanup that the city believes will cost at least $5 million.

City planner Ethan Lassiter told residents at an online meeting March 22 that officials must evaluate a range of factors, from a project’s design to its financial feasibility. Legally, it’s not a matter of seeking a high bidder. “Getting this right is important,” he said.

The four finalist teams will get several weeks to refine their proposals. The city hopes to have another public review in May.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr., whose 24th Ward includes the site, said he hopes for a “transformative” project that won’t require excessive city subsidies. “What we need to do is figure out what is feasibly done, what the city has to bring to the table, what the developer has to bring to the table and then add those community elements that may not have been there before,” Scott said at the online meeting.

The four teams making the short list:

• McCaffery with KMA Cos. and the nonprofit group A Safe Haven. They would build 729,000 square feet, the most ambitious of the proposals, including a community center it calls the North Lawndale Wealth Engine.

• Matanky with Safeway Construction and WBS Equities. They foresee five buildings totaling 473,000 square feet, including a mechanics’ training center.

• Related Midwest with 548 Development. They would build 327,000 square feet in two large industrial buildings and would donate a Lawndale Innovation Center.

• McLaurin Development Partners and several others. They promise warehouses and cold storage, a recreation center and a minority-owned coffee shop and coworking space.

Two other partnerships replied to the city’s call for plans in January, but they dropped from consideration.

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