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New Michael Reese Development Plan Shows Grand Vision For Neighborhood

By Sam Cholke | February 27, 2017 10:21am
 Imagine Development's proposal for the Michael Reese site includes bits of nearly every idea for the vacant land since the city bought it in 2011.
Imagine Development's proposal for the Michael Reese site includes bits of nearly every idea for the vacant land since the city bought it in 2011.
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Courtesy of Imagine Development

BRONZEVILLE — What might become of the old Michael Reese Hospital site? One development group has big ideas and is showing them off.

Imagine Development on Monday released a proposal to remake the site, a plan that pulls from just about every previous idea for the site as the city debates who will develop the property.

The developers are hoping its plans for luxury condos, affordable apartments, sports and entertainment districts and lots of new hotel space will land the firm the deal to redevelop the 114-acre location when the city picks a developer on April 6.

“Our vision is a vibrant, sustainable, diverse, pedestrian- and family-friendly community honoring the history of Bronzeville,” said Paul McDermott, the project manager for the proposal. “We see it as a first-of-its-kind, mixed-use, urban revitalization project to not only transform the South Side, but also elevate Chicago’s global stature and enhance quality-of-life for local residents.”

The city bought the site for $89 million in 2009 in the hopes of building housing for athletes during the city’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.

When the bid failed, it triggered a clause in the contract that increased the price to $91 million, and the city started looking for someone who would build conference space, hotels or a tech park for the site.

The Imagine Development plan includes all of those elements and more.

The developer said it is negotiating with two Chinese universities to open extensions of their campuses in Bronzeville and is planning 5 million square feet of office, lab and conference space and 1.4 million square feet of hotel space.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011 proposed a tech park for the site, and that idea is now gaining traction again. The developer is proposing to consolidate many of urban research labs and infrastructure research groups on the Michael Reese site to create a testing ground for new ideas in urban development, an idea reminiscent of what McCaffery Interests and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill proposed for the former South Works site in South Chicago before parting ways with U.S. Steel.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill looked at the Michael Reese site in 2014 and concluded that a casino would be one of the most cost-efficient ways to redevelop the site. The approvals necessary for a casino have been consistently blocked at the state level. The developers are including the entertainment that the 2014 plan said would complement the casino, but are excluding any call for gambling on the site.

Instead, the plan calls for arts incubators to complement the academic and business incubators planned around the research groups.

The plan calls for arts and sports facilities to complement new hotels and academic research facilities. [Courtesy of Imagine Development]

Though the site was passed over for Barack Obama's presidential library, the developers said they want one or more new museums within the site and are proposing everything from a performing arts museum to a Chicago sports hall of fame.

Sports was to be the dominant use when the plan was to bring the Olympics to the city. The proposal wants to resurrect at least a portion of that idea as well. The plan calls for new Olympic-level sports training facilities and more than 12 acres of sports facilities and fields.

These institutional uses would be surrounded by 3.5 million square feet of residential space that would be a mix of affordable housing and luxury condos. The plan calls for 400,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of restaurant and bar space to provide the street life of the “city-within-a-city” the developers imagine.

The developers have not released cost estimates for these ideas.

The ambitious idea for the South Works site was expected to cost $4 billion to redevelop 589 acres in South Chicago.

The Michael Reese site is considerably smaller, with 49 acres directly owned by the city. The remainder of the site includes 11 acres of privately owned property and the air rights to McCormick Places’s 28-acre truck-marshaling yards.

Any developer who takes on the site will have to contend with the high expected costs to clean up residual radioactive waste from a former uranium-processing facility on the northern edge of the site in 1915.

Imagine Development is the first team to go public with its proposal and other developers are expected to have submitted their own ideas to the city.

Pete Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, declined to say what other firms responded to the request for proposals, which wered due Feb. 22.

The city is reviewing the proposals now and is expected to make a decision on a developer on April 6.