NORTH LAWNDALE — In the early ’90s, the massive lot at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue was home to one of the nation’s most notorious environmental justice disasters: an illegal dumping ground for hazardous waste that caused health issues for residents.
Now, over 30 years later, the vacant Silver Shovel land will be redeveloped into $38.4 million manufacturing complex and innovation center the city hopes will become an economic engine for North Lawndale on the West Side after decades of neglect.
The 21-acre project by developers Related Midwest and 548 Development was picked by the city from six projects presented to area residents last year, officials announced Monday.
The development’s two industrial buildings will house freight, distribution and cold storage tenants. It will also include the North Lawndale Innovation Center, which will offer workforce training, retail and offices for the community.
The project is part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West program aimed at driving growth in Black and Latino neighborhoods that haven’t historically gotten their fair share of public and private dollars.
“Chicago’s central location has long made it a prime location for industrial operations,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Through this exciting and sustainable new project… we will be able to not only build on this reputation, but bring lucrative freight and logistics jobs and a community innovation space to our North Lawndale community.”
The developers partnered with the North Lawndale Chamber of Commerce to plan the innovation center and its offerings. Outside the center will be a park for the community, which will feature public art designed by muralist Max Sansing along Roosevelt Road.
“The site … will generate valuable jobs at a state-of-the-art facility, and the planned innovation center will be a rich asset for those who live here,” said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest.
The project is expected to create up to 700 temporary and permanent jobs. The industrial facility will have two buildings: one a 153,460-square-foot building with 31 dock spaces on the north end of the Altenheim rail line, and a 148,680-square-foot-building with 31 docks on the south.
The rail line could be transformed into a trail similar to the The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail. The railway could eventually have a bike trail, gardens, a forested section, public art and facilities dedicated to athletics and recreation , which would be integrated into the public areas of the industrial development.
“We will create a facility that will be economically empowering for the community of North Lawndale and a hub for the community to learn, thrive and grow,” said AJ Patton, partner at 548 Development.
The 21-acre vacant Silver Shovel lot has long been a painful memory of the injustices suffered by Lawndale neighbors. Once known as Mount Henry by residents, the site was used in as an illegal dump for hazardous construction waste by construction companies in the ’90s, including companies contracted by the city to build roads and highways. The construction waste piled six stories high, causing toxic debris to blow from the pile and blanket the surrounding neighborhood, including nearby Sumner Elementary school.
The illegal Silver Shovel dump was a safety hazard, a magnet for crime, and the toxic dust blowing off the mountain of construction debris caused health issues for nearby residents since the dumping began in 1990. Community members appealed to city, state and federal environmental agencies to stop the dumping and clean up the waste, but their voices were largely ignored for years, said resident Gladys Woodson, who has lived near the land for almost 50 years.
“We’re still feeling the effects of the dump sites that were here,” Woodson said. “It affected a lot of our older people, and it affected a lot of our children. …A lot of our young people had serious asthma problems from that site.”
In 1996, it was revealed why government agencies turned a blind eye to the hazardous waste: the man who orchestrated the dumps was an FBI mole involved in a corruption sting known as Operation Silver Shovel. They allowed the dumping in order to catch politicians being bribed into allowing the dumping.
The dumps weren’t fully cleaned up until 1998, and promises from then-Mayor Richard Daley to use city dollars to develop the lots into something to help the community went unfulfilled.
Before a project was selected, Woodson said she hoped the project chosen would serve the interests of West Siders.
“I don’t want them to forget who was affected by this,” she said.
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