NORTH LAWNDALE — A notorious West Side dumping ground that was part of an FBI sting on city corruption is taking its first steps toward rebirth as a $68 million solar-powered industrial warehouse and job training site to bring opportunities to the community.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined developers 548 Enterprise and Related Midwest on Friday at 4300 W. Roosevelt Road in North Lawndale for the groundbreaking of the project.
Developers plan to build four buildings: two industrial warehouses, each 181,760 square feet, and two innovation centers for job training. The project is expected to be done by fall 2024.
The land at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue once was home to “Mount Henry,” a six-story mound of hazardous debris the feds used in the mid-’90s to catch city officials taking bribes to let the dumping continue. Six aldermen were indicted in the scandal.
North Lawndale neighbors had to deal with the harmful effects of the garbage mound for years in the form of rat infestations and health issues. The site has now been cleaned up.
With the development, a rooftop will have a 3-megawatt solar farm, enough to power 500 homes on the West Side. There will be a public park and space to support markets, food trucks and pop-up stands.
The development is an opportunity for the city to reclaim its troubled history and uphold the neighborhoods, Lightfoot said.
“This groundbreaking marks an exciting development in this community, and [is] really surreal and important for development on the West Side,” Lightfoot said. “We have much to be proud of by putting those dark days behind us.”
The land was sold for $1 and received $8 million in TIF funding in December. It will help pay for site preparation and environmental remediation. The project is expected to bring 250 temporary jobs and 250 permanent jobs to North Lawndale.
AJ Patton, CEO of 548 Enterprise, said representation and equity were conceptualized in every facet of the design, from construction to professional services, design and engineering.
“Being able to deliver this combination of benefits to the community — particularly on a site that has been the source of so many challenges for the community in the past — is what drove me to do this work, and I’m thrilled to be a partner on this one-of-a-kind project,” Patton said.
The general contractors are two Chicago-based companies: Pepper Construction, a family-owned, 90-year-old commercial construction company; and GMA Construction Group, a Black-owned construction company with extensive experience rehabbing developments throughout Chicago, officials said.
Black Men United, a community service group focused on restoring and rebuilding Black communities across America, will have its headquarters in one of the innovation facilities. John Harrell, CEO of the group, said the project is an incredible opportunity to repurpose land that has caused so much pain to the community.
“This project is a symbol of the community’s ability to rise above the past as we inspire and empower a whole new generation through workforce development and other community services that will help local residents succeed,” Harrell said.
The development is part of Lightfoot’s Invest South/West economic development initiative.
North Lawndale neighbors previously criticized how the city selected the developers for the project, saying there was minimal input from the community. Of the six development teams that pitched proposals for the site, the 548/Related Midwest plan was neither the highest rated among neighbors nor city planners.
Promised meetings for neighbors to review updated plans from developers never happened.
Lightfoot said the warehouse and job training site was the most financially feasible of the finalists.
Ald. Monique Scott (24th), a lifelong West Side resident, said the groundbreaking was a game-changing moment and she has not seen any project like it. She remembers the debris and neglect, she said.
“The innovation project will change the face of the 24th Ward and add value to how we live and where we live,” Scott said. “The civic neglect and institutional racism that allowed the dump to happen in the first place has continued long after the last truck of debris was carted away. Today, we are embarking on a change.”
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