BRONZEVILLE — The city is courting developers for the long-vacant Michael Reese Hospital land, but potential builders will have to grapple with radioactive waste discovered on the site.
In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigated the site and found 3 acres were contaminated with radioactive waste from a former uranium processing facility run by University of Chicago professor H.N. McCoy that had been on the site from 1915-20, according to agency reports.
McCoy also ran a lantern company in Streeterville that has left thorium contamination in the neighborhood.
The Mayor’s Office started talking a year ago about restarting its search for a developer for the 49-acre former hospital site along the lakefront in Bronzeville. On Friday, the city said it would put out a request for proposals from developers on Oct. 12.
“The Michael Reese site has been vacant for nearly 10 years,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the Friday announcement. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform a part of the South Side and generate economic opportunities that will reach throughout Chicago.”
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley negotiated the purchase of the hospital site in 2009 for $89 million to build housing for athletes for the city’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, a deal that raised the price to $91 million when the city failed to secure the games.
Emanuel's office said cleaning up the radioactive waste will be part of any deal to redevelop the land and referred questions to the city’s Department of Planning and Development.
A spokesman from the planning department was not immediately available to comment.
The EPA and a further investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health in 2013 found the site is currently safe because much of the radioactive contamination is buried under the northernmost 3 acres of the site.
Any excavation of the site will require monitoring for gamma radiation, according to both agencies, because the facility was possibly dumping radioactive waste into sewers or wells that may still be buried under the site.
The city is trying to sweeten the deal for potential developers, who would need to go through extra permit reviews and precautions while redeveloping the lakefront site with easy access to the Metra Electric Line and Lake Shore Drive.
The site is within the Bronzeville TIF District, opening the possibility of tax subsidies. The city is also adding air rights over McCormick Place’s 28-acre truck marshaling yards adjacent to the eastern edge of the site that runs from 26th Street to 31st Street on the east side of Martin Luther King Drive.
“The potential to expand the development site to the east will also afford better connections to the lakefront while enhancing north-south connections between Downtown and the mid-South Side,” said David Reifman, commissioner of the planning department, in the announcement. “The potential for a larger footprint should also lead to more high-quality and creative development proposals.”
There have been numerous studies and plans for the site since the city bought the property, which will have amassed $50 million in interest payments if the city does not sell it by 2024.
A 2012 study by a team of nine real estate, consulting and law firms led by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill found that a casino was the most economically viable option for the site. But the idea was strongly opposed in the neighborhood, and the necessary casino license has remained politically unviable in Springfield.
The same study said Daley’s idea for a technology park also was unlikely because most major academic research institutions in the city already were developing research facilities or owned land better suited for their needs. An expansion by a major research corporation was also seen as unlikely.
During all of these plans, the site has not been used.
“I am happy we are beginning to process to develop the Michael Reese site and I look forward to engaging the community as it moves forward,” said 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King. “This site has incredible potential to create new jobs and drive economic growth in the 4th Ward, and community input is an important part of that vision.”
The request for proposals will go out on Oct. 12 and are due on Feb. 22, 2017.
A developer could be selected as soon as the spring of 2017, according to the Mayor’s Office.
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