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Community Leaders Want Lakeside Mega-plan to Benefit All of South Chicago

When worlds collide, whether in science fiction or real life, the result can blaze new paths for both.

Angela Hurlock, executive director of Claretian Associates, wants the new development to be a success. But Claretian and other neighborhood groups want their blue collar consituents to benefit, too.

Eric Young Smith

So when a big-time real estate developer sets out to build a $4 billion luxury city-within-a-city alongside one of Chicago’s least affluent neighborhoods, even an optimist could be excused for asking: “How’s that going to work?”

Already an answer is starting to emerge, and it goes something like this: Very carefully … guided along the way by agreements negotiated between the struggling neighborhood, the visionary developer and the city.

The table for those negotiations may include Claretian Associates, a respected community organization in the South Chicago neighborhood and an accomplished member of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Network.

“We want this to be a successful development,” said Angela Hurlock, executive director of Claretian, which grew from a century-old missionary network.

But what will make the development “successful” for Claretian and for the blue-collar families it represents – a truly mixed-income development, one that would generate good-paying jobs for locals and blend in with, not stand contrary to, the existing community – might not be the easiest or most profitable path for the developer.

Give and take

So there’s sure to be some give-and-take, beginning with whom will be seated on an official community advisory committee currently in formation. Obviously the developer and the two city aldermen whose wards split the neighborhood will be at the table, but who else? A wider coalition of South Side groups, called the Coalition for a Lakeside Community Benefits Agreement, is ready to be a part of the committee.

Neighborhood residents wonder what impact that Chicago Lakeside development will have on their modest homes.

Eric Young Smith

That Coalition, which so far has recruited 25 members besides Claretian ranging from the broad-based Alliance of the SouthEast to the more localized Bush Neighborhood Homeowners & Tenants Assn., already has drafted a 10-page community benefits agreement. The CBA sets aggressive goals for hiring, housing affordability, construction of neighborhood-accessible schools and a community center.

Trying to make the financials work for his hoped-for partners and lenders is McCaffery Interests’ Chairman and CEO Dan McCaffery. He’s been at this project for 10 years, since forming a joint venture with USX Corporation, formerly U.S. Steel, to redevelop the company’s vast South Works mill site on the lakefront just north of the Indiana line.

All indications are that his company is finally ready to break ground on what’s being marketed as “Chicago Lakeside.” After a decade of challenges and delay, not the least being the 2007-08 Great Recession and ensuing real estate hangover, key pieces are locking into place.

Stranded no more

A major piece was last year’s completion of the federal/state-funded relocation of a widened South Shore Drive, aka U.S. 41, which bisects the site from north to south. That link, plus an improved on-ramp to the Chicago Skyway (Interstate 90) to the south, provides the heretofore remote location renewed marketability as McCaffery pitches prospective retail and residential sub-developers.

Will Commerial Avenue, South Chicago's main drag, attract residents of the new development?

Eric Young Smith

“For us,” McCaffery recently told a community outreach session, “it’s been everything to show retailers you can actually get here.”

Indeed, Chicago’s business press has buzzed of late with the now-confirmed rumors that a 70,000-square-foot Mariano’s Fresh Market will anchor a kickoff shopping center. McCaffrey is also promoting his swing-for-the-fences bid to bring the Barack Obama Presidential Library to the northeast shoreline of the site, which he’s calling Inspiration Point.

The library may appear a longshot, except for the facts that: 1) it’s arguably the most physically dramatic site of the handful the city recently nominated to the presidential selection committee; and 2) it ties back thematically to the young Obama’s early days in Chicago when he helped organize Far South Side communities like this one to deal with issues of de-industrialization, disinvestment and enviro-degradation. When South Works, where 20,000 once worked, closed in 1992, it became a poster-child for all three urban maladies.

“There is no other site in this city that qualifies, or should even be considered,” enthused McCaffery in his North Michigan Avenue offices, after showing a visitor a promotional video submitted to the library selection committee.

Too remote? “We’ve got four Metra stations, a state highway and an Interstate,” he shot back. “We’re 10 minutes from Navy Pier by hydrofoil!”

The odd coupling

Whether or not Lakeside lands the Obama spectacular, the 600-acre mega-development – bigger than two downtown Loops – is sure to have a dramatic impact on the entire Southeast Side … and especially on South Chicago.

This is a community of 29,458 residents, nearly three-quarters African-American and a quarter Hispanic. At $30,559, its median annual household income in 2012 was less than half that of the Chicago metro area, according to a U.S. Census survey. Its rate of unemployment, at 19.7 percent, is almost double the region’s, and its usage of broadband internet is in the lowest tier citywide, at just 53 percent.

Chicago Lakeside developer Dan McCaffery is hoping that the Barack Obama Presidential Library will be part of his ambitious plan to transform the former U.S. Steel site into a new urban enclave of houses, businesses and recreational faclities.

John McCarron

Home values are so weak and foreclosures so common that gentrification, typically the main fear of neighborhoods facing upscale development, seems less an issue than the neighborhood’s over-riding yearning for good-paying jobs.

“Training and Jobs” is topic No. 1 in that draft community benefits agreement. Claretian’s Hurlock ranks employment opportunities, along with provision of affordable housing, as one-two “must-haves” for community negotiators.

“But our people have to be ready for those jobs,” she cautioned. “This historically is a union neighborhood, a union ward, so we need the construction trades to open up and help us with that.”

The employment prospects are tantalizing. The developer projects 97,800 “construction and related” jobs over the course of a 40-year build-out, with 27,800 permanent positions remaining in “commercial, office and institutional” settings.

Who will benefit?

Yet to be decided is whether Lakeside will – or legally can – be held to a higher standard than city, state and federal requirements for such things as minority employment and contracting set-asides … or for affordable housing.

McCaffery indicated at a May 13 community gathering at Grace Apostolic Church, just off-site at 83rd Street and Exchange Avenue, that if anything he’ll exceed affordability requirements early on. Lakeside’s target for subsidized and affordable units would run to 35 percent of the first 400 to 500 apartments, he predicted, or way more than the 20 percent required by city ordinance. Subsequent phases would taper down, he said, so the final mix would be 20 percent affordable.

He also said: “We’re not afraid of a community benefits agreement. We encourage it. But we’re going to do it a bit more deliberately.”

A rendering depicts what the 600-acre Chicago Lakeside development will look like when completed.

How deliberately was hinted at by Ald. Natasha Holmes, whose 7th Ward covers the area north of 83rd Street. “We are in the process of developing an advisory committee with by-laws and with a process and a procedure,” she told the crowd of about 150 in Apostolic’s basement meeting room. Not everyone who wants to will be on the main committee, she said, but there will be “sub-committees for other people to get involved.”

Values going up

McCaffery Interests Inc. already has gained control of some 40 vacant lots and foreclosed homes west of the original USX site, apparently with the intention of doing infill-type development.

“My absolute 100 percent pledge,” he told the gathering, “is that your (home) value is going to go up.”

“I’m not going to develop your neighborhood,” McCaffery went on. “It’s already a fine neighborhood. But as we proceed it’s going to get better. The neighborhood is going to develop itself.”

One available blueprint for doing that is the quality-of-life plan produced in 2007 as part of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program.

That 38-page document anticipates the Lakeside/South Works project, urging that the development be “consistent with core principles defined by hundreds of community residents.” Those principles include continuation of Commercial Avenue’s historic role as the neighborhood’s retail core, extension of the lakefront park system and creation of new east-west street connections to ensure pedestrian and vehicle access into the new neighborhood and to the lakefront.

The challenge now, for community groups like Claretian and for historic South Chicago, is to use the negotiating table to advance a program of development that blends the new with the old … for the benefit of both.

More information:

Angela Hurlock, Claretian Associates, 773-734-9181

Nasutsa Mabwa, McCaffery Interests, 312-784-2764

In June 2006, photographer Eric Young Smith explored the grounds of the old U.S. Steel works along the lakefront in South Chicago. With development plans proceeding for Chicago Lakeside, a massive residential/retail/commercial project on the site, these images will stand as a reminder of the evolutionary nature of communities and cities......


Posted in Housing, South Chicago


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