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South Works Plan To Include Modular House Factory, Ald. Susan Garza Says

By Sam Cholke | August 2, 2017 6:59am | Updated on August 4, 2017 11:44am
 The expected buyer of the South Works site is planning to build 20,000 housing units in a factory built on the site.
The expected buyer of the South Works site is planning to build 20,000 housing units in a factory built on the site.
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Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers

SOUTH CHICAGO — With a new development team now picked to take over one of the largest swaths of vacant land in the city, aldermen and community groups are cautiously optimistic something new will be built on the Southeast Side.

Emerald Living, a partnership between Ireland-based WeLink and the Spanish Barcelona Housing Systems, was named Tuesday as the buyer of the 440-acre U.S. Steel South Works site, replacing a development team lead by Chicago-based McCaffery Interests.

RELATED: 20,000 Homes Planned For Huge Vacant U.S. Steel Site As New Buyer Emerges

The new team also is proposing to build an entirely new neighborhood from scratch from 79th Street to the Calumet River east of Lake Shore Drive, as McCaffery did.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, whose 10th Ward covers more than half of the site on the southern end, said she’s excited that Emerald Living was picked over bids from Chicago and Chinese groups and is “optimistic” the project will go through to construction.

She said housing in her ward has become increasingly in demand, and she’s excited that the proposal includes a factory on the southern end of the site that would build and assemble 20,000 modular units of housing.

Garza said was won over when Barcelona Housing System’s founder César Ramírez Martinell came to tour the site and the surrounding neighborhoods and then returned with his son from Barcelona to see it.

She said she was also sold on the plan when the developers agreed the factory would be unionized.

A representative from the development team could not be reached for comment.

Garza said it will mean good jobs in the community for 15 years while the development is built and perhaps longer if the vision of making the housing model a prototype that can be marketed to Indiana and Wisconsin is successful.

She said U.S. Steel made the ultimate decision of which bid to go with, but she said she preferred this one over competing bids from a Chinese company to build a gated community and a plan from a Chicago-based group she said she felt was too vague.

Ald. Greg Mitchell, whose 7th Ward covers the northern half of the site, said Tuesday that he’s optimistic that this project will be successful if the developers listen to the surrounding communities and understand the context and needs.

“There is no way millions of dollars is spent, and it doesn’t benefit the Southeast Side,” Mitchell said.

He said he’s encouraging the developers to look first at the need for a grocery store and other retail on the northern end of the site and to let that spur demand for more housing later.

Mitchell said he liked that the developers said that the prefabricated housing will be affordable, but he has encouraged them to understand what is truly affordable in South Chicago and to look closely at the existing supply of housing and need for more during the planning.

He said South Chicago must benefit from the new development and he’s not opposed to getting community benefits in writing if other strategies fail.

Garza said she thinks there must be a written community benefits agreement, even if the developers and the community agree on what they want to come of the development.

Amalia Nieto Gomez, executive director of the Alliance of the SouthEast, which led the push for a community benefits agreement during McCaffery’s plans, said such an agreement is still on the table, but wants to meet with the developers first.

“We are anxious to see a deal take place that is beneficial to the community,” Gomez said.

She said the developers have not made any presentations to the community about the plans, but they have expressed a desire to work with the community during initial meetings with community groups.

“We’re excited the developer wants to work with the community and look forward to doing that,” Gomez said.

The developers are currently going through a five-month due diligence phase before the sale is final.