CITY HALL — Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has opened an investigation into a partial factory demolition that blanketed nearby homes in a cloud of dust on Saturday and prompted two days of fury and finger-pointing from city officials, a spokesperson for the office confirmed on Monday.
At the same time, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is pushing city departments under her direction to type up a “preliminary report” on how Hilco Redevelopment Partners failed to put promised dust control measures into place, she said during a press conference on Monday.
“We started our work on Saturday, and it’s my hope that we’re going to have a preliminary report that we can put out later this week,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor also said that she spoke with Hilco Redevelopment Partners CEO Roberto Perez and “made it very clear” that “they own this, and they have to mitigate the harm that has been done to residents and residents’ property.”
However, local environmental activists and some members of City Council have leveled blame on city officials for allowing the demolition to take place over the concerns of neighbors.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) told The Daily Line on Monday that he welcomes the city’s internal review but wants “to emphasize the importance of having an independent, non-partisan agency look into this, even if it takes longer.”
“Of course it’s important that Hilco be held accountable, but it’s our responsibility within the city to understand why this permit was ever awarded in the first place,” Sigcho–Lopez said. “They have to explain why this permit was so urgent, why this was necessary in the middle of a pandemic. This was not an essential activity.”
Construction activities have been deemed an “essential business” and continue unimpeded in Illinois, unlike in New York and Michigan, where building has largely been put to a halt.
Sigcho-Lopez joined at least seven of his colleagues — Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Matt Martin (47th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Andre Vasquez (40th) — in calling for Ferguson to open an investigation into how the proposed demolition passed muster with the city.
“If the aldermen want to have the IG engage, have at it,” Lightfoot told reporters when asked about the request on Monday. “But I’m not going to wait for an IG report.”
Lightfoot added that Hilco’s CEO was “embarrassed and contrite” and had sent out “a team of people to literally go door-to-door to assess the damage” from the pollution.
A spokesperson for the development firm confirmed Lightfoot’s comments on Monday.
“We are working cooperatively with the City of Chicago to review Saturday’s demolition event undertaken by our contractor,” Perez wrote in a statement. “We are sensitive to the concerns of the community and we will continue to work in full cooperation.”
Lightfoot ordered a work stoppage at the site of the former Crawford coal plant, which Hilco plans to demolish and replace with a new 1 million-square-foot shipping and logistics facility. The City Council voted to approve the project in 2018 and later approved a $19.7 million tax incentive to support it.
When asked Monday if she wanted to see the tax break revoked, the mayor said she does not “know that there’s basis for that kind of action.”
Officials said Sunday that Hilco secured a demolition permit from the city’s buildings department last month.
Lightfoot has also faced criticism from Ald. Brian Hopkins,(2nd), who tweeted Sunday that Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) would have been able to prevent the demolition were it not for Lightfoot’s day-one order to end aldermanic privilege over permitting decisions.
“If you were among the many who applauded this unprecedented mayoral power grab because it eliminated aldermanic ‘fiefdoms’ you own this,” Hopkins wrote.
Sigcho-Lopez echoed that critique, saying Downtown officials had made the “unilateral decision” to approve the implosion without notifying or taking input from neighbors.
“When the health of residents is on the line, we must make sure we have a process where we have accountability, and that is not happening,” Sigcho-Lopez said Monday. “Now everybody is pointing fingers, but at the end of the day, Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on the promise of a better process, and her process is not working…we need to reform the guidelines before we issue permits.”
Rodriguez declined to say whether he would have acted to prevent the demolition if he were empowered to do so, calling it a “hypothetical.”
Rodriguez told The Daily Line on Monday that he supports both the mayor’s investigation and a “third-party” review by Ferguson’s office.
“I’m certainly very upset with Hilco, but I want a review of how the city did its job” leading up to the implosion, Rodriguez said. “There were a number of city departments involved in the process, and we need to look at all those efforts.”