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Report shares big ideas, little hope for Pullman redevelopment

10-9-07 NEIGHBORS.......The rebuilt clock tower of the Pullman Factory at 111th & Cottage Grove.....Pulllman neighborhood for Mark Konkol column....Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The historic Pullman buildings on the South Side could be adapted for modern factory use and as a hotel, real estate experts told community members and a state agency Thursday.

However, the report from a panel of the Urban Land Institute Chicago Council discussed in almost despairing terms the prospect for money to cover any work at the site. The Pullman buildings at 111th and Cottage Grove are the remnants of industrialist George Pullman’s vision of a capitalist utopia in the 1880s that led to explosive times for American labor.

The report notes that the state has spent nearly $26 million since 1991 to acquire and repair the properties, yet they are little used and more must be spent to prevent deterioration. Environmental work has never been done on the factory site, it said.

A phased development with public subsidies has the best chance of reactivating the site, but this option “would require complex financing” and government support at a time of cutbacks, the report said.

It criticized two other ideas offered for Pullman: making it a labor museum of the National Park Service or putting it in the running for a Barack Obama presidential library. Both would take years to be realized and would preempt other options for the property, the report said.

An advisory committee prepared the report under a $15,000 contract with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the property owner. The committee’s chairman was Mike Szkatulski, senior managing director for real estate at Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc.

Sunny Fischer, chairman of the agency, said the pessimism in the report reflects the economic reality of the times.

“There are some good ideas potentially but I’m afraid it’s just the very beginning of the process,” Fischer said.

The buildings are the 12.5-acre factory complex with its clock tower, damaged in a 1998 arson fire, and the Queen Anne-style Hotel Florence.

The report said historic preservation in Pullman could play off other investments in the area, including the Pullman Park development anchored by a Walmart just east of the state’s property.