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Bronzeville, Near South Side

With Casino Off The Table, City Lays Out Plan For Michael Reese Site: Housing, Community Center, 31st Street Metra Station

"Nothing is set in stone," said Ald. Sophia King (4th), but plans for the former hospital site include housing, retail establishments, a data center and a life sciences campus.

A rendering of plans for the former Michael Reese Hospital site, 2929 S. Ellis Ave.
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BRONZEVILLE — A data center, a world-class health facility and 650,000 square feet of housing could all be in line for the former Michael Reese Hospital site, developers and city officials said Tuesday.

The community meeting on plans for the site, hosted by Ald. Sophia King (4th), was the third of its kind since 2017, in addition to a few smaller town halls.

Members of the development team, led by Farpoint Development, broadly discussed their plans for the first phase of redevelopment at the site.

King repeatedly reminded attendees “nothing is set in stone.”

Included in the plans are:

  • market-rate housing, with 20 percent set aside for affordable housing
  • a community center
  • a data center to capitalize on the site’s “dense” concentration of fiber optic cables
  • a 500,000-square-foot “life sciences campus”
  • construction of a 31st Street Metra station

At the meeting, a panel of developers and city officials were on hand to answer residents’ questions.

Concerns ranged from how the city, already facing a nearly billion-dollar deficit, would benefit financially from granting tax increment financing to how the developers’ will show a commitment to nearby youth and education.

The land, purchased in 2009 as the city made its ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics, accounts for a significant portion of the city’s existing debt: $91 million plus interest, King said.

Selling the property to the developers — and later collecting tax revenue on what is now vacant land — would only be a positive, panelists said.

Vacant property so near Lake Michigan is “obviously a missed opportunity by the tenth, the hundredth degree,” said Cindy Roubik of the city’s Department of Planning and Development. “Having a development here will really help bring taxes back into the city coffers.”

Credit: Flickr/ryan griffis
The former Michael Reese hospital site.

On the educational front, the developers are promising $25 million in funding and said they’ll make 10 internships and 75 apprenticeships available to local youth during site construction.

Details on partnering with nearby Dunbar Vocational High School and other schools for internships and apprenticeships are “not ironed out well yet,” King said, but the developers have shown a commitment to doing so.

Zakiyyah Muhammad, a member of the Michael Reese Community Advisory Council, has been vocal in her push to increase the plan’s residential capacity since the council’s 2017 inception.

The meeting didn’t provide her with any information she wasn’t already aware of through her work with the council, she said.

Muhammad would prefer the 10,000 to 40,000 square feet currently marked for “community space” instead be used for additional housing. She is concerned the plans don’t provide the density necessary to keep all of the proposed small businesses and amenities afloat.

“I am trying to see more residential and retail shops built so the community can serve the residents,” Muhammad said. “I don’t see the sense in bringing something that is not beneficial to the people that’s going to be living there.”

During the meeting, Zeb McLaurin of McLaurin Development Partners assured attendees the project would culminate in a “truly healthy community” with enough demand to meet supply.

McLaurin said if all goes according to plan, preliminary construction could begin “in the next 18 months or so.” Vertical construction would begin “several months to a year” after that.

The meeting came several months after a feasibility study determined a proposed casino on the site at 2929 S. Ellis Ave. would take five years to eke out a 3.2 percent annual profit.

King rejected any casino plans for Bronzeville in July, saying it’d be like “putting a casino in Harlem.”

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