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Southwest Side Environmental Advocates Ask Pritzker To Halt Damen Silos Sale To MAT Asphalt Owner

Groups have opposed selling the silos to a business group owned by Michael Tadin Jr. "The sale of public land deserves public comment," advocates wrote in a public letter.

The Damen Silos, known for urban exploration, in the Lower West Side on Feb. 19, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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MCKINLEY PARK — South Siders who have opposed the state’s move to sell an abandoned collection of grain elevators are taking their appeal to Gov. JB Pritzker.

On Monday, representatives from multiple Chicago community groups released a letter addressed to Pritzker calling on him to stop the sale of the Damen Silos, 2900 S. Damen Ave., to MAT Limited Partnership, a group of businesses owned by Michael Tadin Jr.

State officials announced the planned sale last month. MAT offered the highest purchase price for the property at $6.52 million, more than double the state’s minimum bid, according to the state. 

Advocates urged Pritzker and state officials to gather neighbors’ feedback before allowing the sale to go through.

Signatories on the letter include the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Southwest Environmental Alliance, Neighbors for Environmental Justice, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Bridgeport Alliance, McKinley Park Mutual Aid, McKinley Park Development Council, Friends of the Parks, the Active Transportation Alliance and 12th Ward aldermanic candidate Julia Ramirez.

“Simply put, the sale of public land deserves public comment. We seek to ensure transparency in public land transactions and to preserve as much riverfront property as possible for public benefit,” the letter states.

“We are disappointed that this sale process has been conducted with no qualitative review of plans for the site and no community input. Failure to engage community stakeholders is a social and environmental justice issue for communities like ours, who face historical inequities and will be directly impacted by development on this site for generations to come.”

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A state spokesperson previously said state officials do not consider factors aside from price in the bidding process.

The process “does not allow for external input,” Cathy Kwiatkowski, deputy director for the state’s central management services department, wrote in a Nov. 9 email.

Since the state’s current policy does not allow for public involvement, it is in the public’s best interest for the state to sell or transfer the Damen Silos to the city of Chicago, advocates said in the letter.

“The city can then work with the community to transform this site into a community asset providing local residents with opportunities for recreation, education, active transportation, and more — all designed in alignment with existing community development plans and riverfront protections,” they wrote. “Moving forward, every community should have a say in the sale and use of its public lands.”

The letter writers further urged the state to change its procedures and adopt a model like the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s request for proposal process under its Invest South/West initiative.

“The city’s process includes neighborhood stakeholders from start to finish,” they wrote. “It builds community input into shaping requirements and vetting proposals. It also requires public officials and would-be developers to field real face-to-face and written public comments prior to sales of public property.”

In a statement, Tadin said any real estate development that occurs on the Damen Silos property will go through a public planned development process. The property is in a Planned Manufacturing District, meaning any development will occur within those zoning requirements.

“Our investment will pour millions of dollars into the local economy, and with it, we will build on our well-established history of serving as a strong asset to the community,” Tadin said.

The site was made famous as a backdrop in the 2014 film “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” The 23.4-acre property includes two land parcels along the south branch of the Chicago River and sits near Interstate 55, known as the Stevenson Expressway.

MAT Asphalt opened a plant in McKinley Park in 2018, surprising neighbors and city officials who said they had no idea it was coming.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
MAT Asphalt in McKinley Park on April 5, 2021.

Over the years, environmental activists have said the plant contributes to pollution and environmental racism in the area. Neighbors for Environmental Justice have held tours of the neighborhood to help people learn about the environmental burden faced by neighbors, and they’ve protested MAT Asphalt’s presence.

MAT’s spokespeople have repeatedly denied the plant is a major source of pollution.

Tadin has faced other controversies, too: In 2020, his family tried to block off public parkland using hedges to make it part of their own private yard in Lakeview. The hedges were ripped out.

Morgan Street Development, Tadin’s real estate company, invested more than $50 million in the Riverbend Estates development along the riverfront, which is about one-third of a mile east of the Damen Silos property, which has been vacant for nearly a half-century, he said in a statement.

“We are grateful that our significant financial risk has helped transform the area from an outmoded industrial use into a beautiful residential and recreational area with modern rental townhouses and single-family homes,” Tadin said in the statement. “Those approximately 100 units are connected to a park and boathouse that are part of Chicago’s overall beautification initiatives along the Chicago River.”

Tadin plans to demolish the silos and develop the area into a headquarters for his companies. Manufacturing and production activities are not expected to move there, he said.

The headquarters will meet and exceed “the regulatory requirements involved,” Tadin said in a November statement.

Tadin and the state plan to close on the deal by the end of the year. After that, the site would take at least one year to prepare and remediate, and then more than a year to build out, Tadin said. He said they’d be able to move in around 2026 or 2027.

Tadin told Block Club Chicago the state, the city and all communities have important roles to play in being good stewards of the environment. That also includes private industry, he added.

“Throughout all of my business enterprises, I am proud of our record in this regard,” Tadin wrote.

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