The long-awaited plan to build a $4 billion mixed-use development on the site once occupied by Michael Reese Hospital took a giant leap forward Monday.
The City Council’s Finance Committee agreed to earmark $60 million from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $3.7 billion capital plan to build city streets, a new park and other infrastructure needed to pave the way for the “Bronzeville Lakefront” project.
Deputy Planning and Development Commissioner Tim Jeffries said the money will bankroll nearly “10,000 linear feet of new and improved roadways as well as two acres of new and improved park space” at the 48.6 acre site, which runs from 26th Street to 31st Street, between Lake Park and Vernon avenues.
Work must be completed in three years at a cost of no more than $60 million. Any costs above that would be paid by the Farpoint Development-led team known as GRIT Chicago, Jeffries said.
City to pay $31M to clean hazardous waste
The city is also on the hook for $31 million to remove hazardous waste left by a radium processing plant that was on the northern end of the property more than 100 years ago. That money is expected to come from a nearby tax increment financing district.
To demonstrate the need for the city’s contribution, Jeffries showed aldermen a map of the former hospital campus, which is “fairly disconnected from the rest of the grid” with access limited to “a few points.”
“This configuration may have been appropriate at one point — especially for a closed campus like Michael Reese. But it’s just not consistent with the requirements of modern development. And to the extent that the roadways do exist, they’re in poor condition. They generally lack utilities. They’re just not appropriate for the scope and scale of the proposed Bronzeville Lakefront project,” he said.
Jeffries called the city’s $60 million investment “an essential and required part of the future development of nearly fifty acres of city-owned property” purchased by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. He wanted to use it for an Olympic Village for the 2016 Summer Games, but the city’s bid for those Olympics failed.
“The Bronzeville Lakefront project is not only an important part of the future for the Bronzeville neighborhood,” he said. But “as the largest and only multi-billion-dollar private project planned in a minority community,” it’s important for the entire city as well.
“The project and the investment it represents, however, cannot proceed without the basic infrastructure necessary for development to occur. This agreement would provide this critical and required first step.”
The first phase of the nearly 8-million-square-foot development is expected to include a research facility operated by Israel’s highly regarded Sheba Medical Center, plus senior housing and a community welcoming center on the southern portion of the property.
Nearly 5K homes
Plans ultimately call for 4,800 residential units, with 20% set aside at reduced rents for people with lower incomes. The developers also are required to pay $25 million toward expansion of nearby schools once they’ve completed 3 million square feet of construction.
Local Ald. Sophia King (4th) said the massive project will bring “billions of economic development dollars into our city, back into our tax base.”
She credited the Michael Reese Advisory Committee for “a lot of the community benefits that you see.” That includes the affordable housing, the senior building, the $25 million commitment to education and a “20% write-down on 10% of all the retail” for local businesses,” she said.
“We’re gonna have a Bronzeville welcoming center/digital museum which will pay homage to the Bronzeville community, the storied history that’s there that has impacted the world. We’ll be able to have people come in locally and world-wide to see that.
“There’s design guidelines throughout the entire development that will make sure that we pay homage to Bronzeville and the Michael Reese site.”
King said the project has literally been a labor of love.
“That first building to the north of Prairie Shores — that was my first home in Chicago. So, it’s kind of full-circle. That was about 35 years ago. And both of my kids were born at Michael Reese. So, it’s personal — not only to me, but obviously to the community,” King said.
Monday’s vote is the first of three for the Michael Reese development. On Tuesday, the Zoning Committee is expected to authorize zoning for the project, and the Housing Committee is expected to sign off on a companion redevelopment agreement.