On Tuesday, Chicago’s Community Development Commission agreed to award $96 million in tax-increment financing for the massive mixed-use project located between 79th Street and the Calumet River known as South Works. Based on a masterplan by SOM Chicago and Sasaki Associates, the development could eventually include millions of square feet of retail and residential space as well as a series of new lakefront parks, and function as a new center for the city’s South Side.
The public money will fund construction of roads, sewers and other elements currently absent from the former industrial land. “The TIF money is absolutely necessary for us to move ahead, since there’s no public infrastructure on site,” said Nasutsa Mabwa, a project manager with McCaffery Interests, the project’s co-developer along with U.S. Steel. The most important piece of infrastructure is a new access road, U.S. 41, which will function as a four-lane extension of Lake Shore Drive with a landscaped median. “It’s an important catalyst,” said Phil Enquist, SOM’s partner in charge of urban design and planning. “This will allow access to the lakefront and spur development on a site that isn’t currently being used by anyone.”
The total project area covers 369 acres, approximately 120 of which have been reserved for lakefront parks. The project follows LEED for Neighborhood Design guidelines, so it emphasizes connectivity with pedestrian-scaled streets, along with innovative water management to filter much of the runoff back into Lake Michigan. The project, which would be built out over a 20- to 45-year period, could eventually include up to nearly 14,000 units of housing and a new elementary and high school, as well as extensive retail and some office space, plus a 1,500-slip marina. A smaller tract of land to the south, owned by Solo Cups, remains undeveloped, and no plans for the property have been announced.
The first phase, which McCaffery will begin marketing to retailers at a conference this fall, will include approximately 800,000 square feet of retail and residential space, designed by Chicago-based Antunovich Associates. Located west of the new Lake Shore Drive extension, the first phase will be immediately adjacent to the existing neighborhood. Construction is expected to commence in 2012 following completion of the new access road. The Chicago Park District will build out the new lakefront areas in accordance with the SOM/Sasaki plan. Enquist said some of the ore walls and building foundations may be retained in the parks to reflect the area’s industrial past.
The team hopes the project will provide new retail, dining, and recreational options for the South Side, an area that has long been overlooked by developers. Enquist pointed out that the site is closer to downtown Chicago than Evanston, and he believes that the South Works development could be comparable in scale and economic impact to Evanston’s downtown. “It’s big enough to have that kind of impact. It’s planned to be a very diverse community, with housing of a variety of sizes and price points. It will be a real neighborhood, not just a shopping center.”
“This area is not well known to Chicagoans,” Enquist added. “Currently, you can’t even access it by car. When people see this land, it will be a big surprise. I’m always knocked over by the beauty of the site.”