TODAY

Thursday, July 24

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


The Mechanics
« Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) Takes Over Chicago Teachers Union CPS: 35 to a Class »

Urban Planning Tue Jun 15 2010

The Story at South Works: Malling the Lakeshore?

Op-Ed Contributed by GB Contributing Writer Bob Quellos

Last week, the Chicago City Council approved a $96 million TIF for the South Works development site, the largest ever given to a private developer in the City of Chicago. The plan for South Works calls for the eventual building of over 17,000 dwelling units on the 500-acre site at the location of the former U.S. Steel South Works, near 79th Street and east of U.S. 41. The project is to be run by a development group that includes the Chicago-based McCaffery Interests. The first phase of construction is scheduled for groundbreaking in 2012; located on a 77 acre portion of the site, it will compromise an astounding million square feet of retail space alongside residential dwellings. Decades from now if the project eventually is completed, it will create an entirely new neighborhood along Lake Michigan on Chicago's South Side.

But if you had $96 million dollars to invest in the City of Chicago what would you do with it? Would you build the infrastructure for a new neighborhood, or perhaps take a shot at filling the ongoing budget hole that is wrecking havoc on the Chicago Public School system. Perhaps you would find a way to put the over 1,100 employees at the CTA who were recently laid off back to work and restore transit services that were axed. Or maybe (hold on to your seat, this is a crazy one), reeling with disgust from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico you decide to make a ground breaking attempt to move Chicago away from a dependance on non-renewable resources and invest the $96 million dollars in wind power that would provide free and clean energy to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.

Perhaps the last thing you would do with this money is fund the infrastructure required for an entire new neighborhood in Chicago. Of course you wouldn't do this. At least not while Chicago is flush with unsold housing units, and only a few zip codes to the west of the proposed development nearly 1 in 16 homes are in foreclosure. Meanwhile in the city as a whole, 1 in every 261 housing units received a foreclosure notice in the month of April 2010. And forget the hole in the ground left by what was to be the Chicago Spire -- add to the foreclosure figures the unknown number of stalled residential units that litter the city. Consider the story run on Eight Forty-Eight a number of months back that focuses on a North Side development that today is nothing more than a masonry shell. As Alison Cuddy reported, "Empty lots and half-finished buildings across the city sit idle while people wait for loans to come through. The financial bottleneck has created a mess of incomplete projects and lines of unemployed construction workers. And now the city that witnessed one of the country's biggest real estate booms is trying to figure out what to do with the land."

And you surely wouldn't fund the infrastructure of an entire new neighborhood for a developer while Crain's Chicago Business is warning that, "The ranks of bankrupt developers are expected to swell in 2010, as more loans come due and lenders shift their attention from foreclosing on troubled properties to collecting multimillion-dollar loan guarantees made by developers when the market was booming." And then factor in that the projects developer, McCaffery Interests, just recently lost a Myrtle Beach development to foreclosure (which also happened to receive TIF funding) and you would conclude this all seems like a bad idea, right?

Well, not if you're Mayor Daley and the Chicago City Council. And if you are the Mayor or one of the city's alderman why not go forward with the TIF? For starters, the South Works site isn't the parking meter deal; meaning, its location puts it out of sight and out of mind. It's unoccupied and inaccessible, so you can't even be angry at the yet-to-be installed Pay Boxes. But secondly, and more importantly, the South Works project is in essence City Hall's plan for Chicago.

The entire planning model for South Works essentially boils down to one alderman's recent comment on the site, stating to Chicago Public Radio that "the idea... is to bring the North Side to the South Side." And what does bringing the north side to the south side mean? According to the same story, "The developer says that means stores like Banana Republic and the Gap are destined for the old U.S. Steel site, which has been sitting empty for nearly two decades."

Actually, some of us may call bringing the North Side to the South Side "gentrification," and the coded language of "stores like Banana Republic and the Gap" as implying a new neighborhood marketed to middle and upper class whites. But this is the plan coming out of City Hall; invest heavily in a vast vacant area on the South Side where little to no resident opposition can easily be mobilized, allow the adjacent mostly African-American neighborhoods to crumble due to foreclosures and a lack of economic investment (with the exception of Hyde Park - of course), and then allow developers and land speculators to buy up these properties at rock bottom prices in hope of future returns. A little TIF funding here, a little displacement there, a charter school here, another bland new urbanism project designed by SOM there, and there you have Chicago's New Burnham Plan.

The lack of planning for Chicago's future that would benefit all the city's residents is appalling. Instead of reflecting on what just happened to the housing market and how it helped spur the Great Recession and then draw conclusions on how not to repeat the same mistakes, the powers that be in Chicago are about to hit us over the head with more of the same.

As City Hall moves forward with helping facilitate this development there are a number of open questions about the South Works site that have yet to be addressed? Elevated Chicago called the site "500 acres of beautiful brownfield development," and maybe that's just what it is. But does that mean that more TIF funding will eventually be required to remove pollutants left from the past operations of the former steel plant site to properly develop it? And while the plan for the site boasts of a lakefront parks, but will this park be open to the public or will there be limited access to all or certain portions of the park? And who down at City Hall actually understands the historical significance of what has just occurred in the housing market and the overall economy?

The South Works site has all the potential to be the Chicago's next Block 37 as it goes through decades of starts and stops, delinquent loan payments from developers, fights over who controls the site once it has been foreclosed, all while continually siphoning money from the pockets of Chicago taxpayers. At the same time, it is a slap in the face to people all of the Chicago who are living in distressed and underfunded neighborhoods, facing down more cuts in services and an economy churning out poor jobs reports on a monthly basis.

So here's a suggestion to the Mayor and City Council; before we go forward with plans to dump more tax money into non-existent neighborhoods, let's take care of the neighborhoods we have first.

 

Thomas Paine / June 15, 2010 10:09 AM

Another race-baiting screed peppered with Marxist claptrap. Add the obvious contradiction of bemoaning "Empty lots and half-finished buildings across the city sit idle while people wait for loans to come through. The financial bottleneck has created a mess of incomplete projects and lines of unemployed construction workers." while at the same time complaining of "The ranks of bankrupt developers are expected to swell in 2010, as more loans come due and lenders shift their attention from foreclosing on troubled properties to collecting multimillion-dollar loan guarantees made by developers when the market was booming."

So what is it? You want the banks to loan more money so more developers can go bankrupt?

If you would actually spend time in one of these South Side neighborhoods you write about, or even live in one as I do, you would realize that the reason there aren't as many national stores such as Gap and Dominick's is because the local "community activists" protest whenever one tries to move in. Dig a little deeper, and you find the entrenched local businesses, in cahoots with the Alderwoman, keeping out the competition while strangling the locals with their Black Tax of higher prices by these inefficient stores.

As with every megaproject green-lighted by the City of Chicago, the real story isn't busting up poor neighborhoods after allowing them to go bankrupt. The real story is the money train behind the scenes. It's always there. Like clockwork, another project comes along every few years, about the time the last one dries up. And, funny thing, each project entails the laying of cubic miles of concrete (Millenium Park, O'Hare runway shuffling, Olympic Village... ooops, I forgot!). And a lot of that concrete money ends up in the pockets of power brokers like Bob Cellini, who kick back a fraction each time one of their fucking puppets on the city council/county board/mayor's office/governor's office needs a little "priority re-alignment". That's the Chicago Way. Ant that's the real reason this place is going to shit.

Dan R / June 15, 2010 10:45 AM

"So what is it? You want the banks to loan more money so more developers can go bankrupt?"

Its pretty clear that he wants the TIF money to be used for infrastructure, schools, transportation, etc. that will benefit existing communities. Of course, that is about as likely as Daley and his cronies doing anything else useful and will require a lot more of the "community activism" that you seem to be so afraid of. I don't blame people for wanting to keep out businesses unwilling to pay a decent wage.

Thomas Paine / June 15, 2010 1:43 PM

"I don't blame people for wanting to keep out businesses unwilling to pay a decent wage."

Do you live in a blighted neighborhood on the South side? Or in Winnetka, or maybe Lincoln Park? These people need jobs! Who are you to tell them what wage is decent and what wage isn't? Maybe not decent to you, but as one whose first job was washing dishes for $2.85 per hour during the Carter recession, I can tell you that it was pretty decent to me! Denying people who want to work the opportunity to work just because the union can't get its foot in the door is unAmerican.

Lee / June 15, 2010 3:56 PM

I am totally with you on Daley making poor, short-sighted decisions, but it's not helpful to attack him without doing your homework first and without making legitimate arguments. There may be some outstanding questions regarding this development, but I don't think you've shed light on any meaningful questions. I would expect a little better from GB. A few things I'd take issue with...

“But if you had $96 million dollars to invest in the City of Chicago what would you do with it?”
– This money doesn't exist yet, so the city couldn't do anything else with it right now. That $96 million in tax revenue would never be collected by the city without developing the vacant land and improving the infrastructure. The city doesn't collect much tax on vacant land. TIFs are intended for economic development. They're usually misused in Chicago and applied to economically viable neighborhoods, but in this case, the property is vacant and is hurting the economic health of the neighborhood. Reinvesting some of the tax revenue from that area back into the vacant land can actually create a net increase in overall tax revenue, so that there would be more money for our schools even after spending the TIF dollars, not less. It's not the same as the TIFs in healthy neighborhoods, where the city would likely be getting that tax revenue regardless of the TIF-funded improvements. Taking that money for TIFs doesn't create a net increase and is more like robbing the general tax fund.

“Meanwhile in the city as a whole, 1 in every 261 housing units received a foreclosure notice in the month of April 2010.”
– While the economy may never be what it once was, there will indeed be growth again, and you're missing the point that large plans like this take place over decades, not in the current economy.

“The South Works site has all the potential to be the Chicago's next Block 37”
There's really no similarity at all. Block 37 was a healthy downtown block with a city landmark that was demolished for supposed “improvements” that never came. So it went from a healthy city block to vacant land. South Works by contrast is already vacant, and ended up vacant because of private industry decline, not because the city demolished it. If the project fails, it's nowhere near the loss of Block 37 – a vacant area will just remain vacant.

“Actually, some of us may call bringing the North Side to the South Side "gentrification," and the coded language of "stores like Banana Republic and the Gap" as implying a new neighborhood marketed to middle and upper class whites.”
– I agree there may be some “gentrification” issues with projects like this, but I also think your statements are very presumptuous and ignore that there are middle-class and upper-class black Chicagoans as well, and that projects like this also offer lots of economic opportunities for residents. Maybe some South Siders want more shopping choices like North Siders have. Maybe they don't want to have to go all the way downtown. Maybe they'd like some stronger commercial districts with South Side character. It's not so black and white (excuse the pun) as you make it out to be.

Yedah / June 15, 2010 4:03 PM

OMG! "wind power that would provide free and clean energy"

Yeah, sounds like we should take economic advice from someone who doesn't grasp the most basic of truths.

Bob Quellos / June 15, 2010 6:04 PM


Since this project is a TIF, the $96 million will exist at some point in the future (if everything goes as planned) and when it does where should that money be funneled to; schools, trains, alternative energy, or to the developers pocket. Keep in mind; traditionally developers have been responsible for investment in a site’s infrastructure – so this TIF is nothing more than a give away. And I thought we were all tired of corporate handouts.

Please understand, the housing market as it was is not coming back. The recent boom was historic and unprecedented, based on speculation, false financial instruments, bad loans (at all levels), and an overproduction of housing. It’s been almost two years since the housing bubble burst and we are still only beginning to understand its full impact not only on the economy but also on neighborhoods some of which I’ve already detailed above.

The reality is that it is going to take decades to recover from the damage caused by this bubble. This is especially true in neighborhoods that are witness to 1 in 16 houses having been foreclosed on – any real plan for that neighborhood to thrive would also take decades, because as the South Works issue is being discussed neighborhoods are deteriorating at an alarming rate. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about perhaps you should take a drive around Englewood and then ask where the 20 year plan for that neighborhood is.

As for similarities between Block 37 and South Works, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to compare two large and valuable vacant lots, one in the middle of the Loop and the other on the Lake Front that the City has its hand in developing. This is hardly apples and oranges. Plus, the real point of comparison was not about the location of the two sites but the potential similarities between Block 37’s development and South Works, “as it goes through decades of starts and stops, delinquent loan payments from developers, fights over who controls the site once it has been foreclosed, all while continually siphoning money from the pockets of Chicago taxpayers.”

Yes, South Works is an empty lot on the Lake Front ripe for development. But is it that hard to figure out something more creative to do with it the site than something as financially risky as building more condos. The current recession brought on by the housing crisis and the state of the environment should have us all thinking more critically about what we build and why we are building it. There is an opportunity at South Works to do just that, but unfortunately all we are getting is another TIF and another bland development where again -- most Chicagoans have nothing to gain.

I believe first and foremost, the City should be working on a plan for direct investment in neighborhoods and saving people’s homes before we do anything else? Where’s that plan?

Bob Quellos / June 15, 2010 6:06 PM

Also, I can hardly see how a Banana Republic or the Gap is going to answer the real problem of food deserts that exist in Chicago. But I would sure like to see the flowchart that explains it.

Add a Comment




Please enter the letter h in the field below:



Live Comment Preview


Notes & Tags

Items marked with a * are required fields. Please respect each other. We reserve the right to delete any comments borne out of douchebaggery or that deal in asshattery.

Permitted tags and how to use them:

To link: <a href="http://blahblahblah.com">Link text</a>
To italicize: <em>Your text</em>
To bold: <strong>Your text</strong>

Feature

How Lawsuits, Lobbyists and Parking Meter Deals Led to Ventra

By Jason Prechtel / 0 Comments

Cubic learned early on that if you don't win a contract through bidding, there are other ways to prevail. More...

Special Series

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project



About Mechanics

Mechanics is the politics section of Gapers Block, reflecting the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs of Chicagoans and Illinoisans. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Monica Reida, mr@gapersblock.com
Mechanics staff inbox: mechanics@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

 Subscribe in a reader.

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15