The Damen Silos, 2860 S. Damen Ave. in Lower West Side, is part of the Preservation Chicago's 2023 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The building is seen on March 7, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

MCKINLEY PARK — Demolition looms large for the Southwest Side’s Damen Silos, a collection of grain elevators abandoned after a 1977 explosion.

Owner Michael Tadin, Jr., who purchased the silos and the surrounding 23.4-acre property along the south branch of the Chicago River late last year, has applied for five demolition permits for the site, city officials said.

MAT Limited Partnership, a group of businesses owned by Tadin, bought the silos and its land from the state in November. A prominent neighborhood group protested the sale, and Southwest Side environmental advocates asked the state to reconsider.

Tadin has previously generated controversy in the city: His MAT Asphalt plant in McKinley Park has been at the center of protests by neighbors who say it is polluting the area, which company representatives have denied.

Demolishing the silos is the first step in rehabbing the site, Tadin previously said. The land would then need to be cleaned up, or remediated, before further development could begin.

“After demolition and other site work is completed, we will evaluate what type of use is best for the property,” Tadin said in a statement Tuesday. “This process will take at least a few years. In that time, we will remain open to continued communication with community members.”

Tadin previously said he was thinking about building out headquarters for his businesses on the site. Matt Baron, a spokesperson for Tadin, said headquarters was still a possibility, but nothing has been finalized.

From left to right: Kurt Beger with Heneghan Wrecking Co., Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th), Megan Cunningham with the Department of Public Health, Matthew Beaudet with the Department of Buildings, and Dawveed Scully and James Harris with the Department of Planning and Development. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

McKinley Park Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th) and officials from the Department of Buildings, Department of Public Health and Department of Planning and Development held a public meeting Tuesday night to let the neighbors know details regarding the potential demolition of the Damen Silos.

The permits are currently under review, officials said. If they are issued, demolition would take about four months, depending on the weather.

Because of the size of the buildings and the land, bringing down the silos and its surrounding buildings is considered a complex demolition by the buildings department, said Commissioner Matthew Beaudet.

Beaudet said this wouldn’t be a demolition by implosion, or with the use of explosives. The buildings would be brought down piece by piece, he said.

During the meeting’s public comment period, several speakers referenced what has become a flashpoint in the city’s fight for environmental justice: the botched Hilco implosion.

In 2020, officials mishandled the demolition of the old Crawford Smokestack in Little Village, sending a massive dust cloud of smoke over the Southwest Side neighborhood at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents and activists slammed the city’s lack of oversight and pointed to the demolition as another example of environmental racism in the city.

RELATED: Environmental Activists Doubling Down On Calls For Accountability After Leaked Hilco Demolition Report

Environmental justice advocates have been pushing for years for increased accountability regarding demolitions. Many in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting expressed their skepticism of the city’s willingness to be transparent about the potential Damen Silos demolition

“This is not Hilco,” Beaudet said.

The Damen Silos, 2860 S. Damen Ave., seen on March 7, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Megan Cunningham, managing deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said her agency has also designated this as an environmentally complex demolition. This triggers an additional review process, she said.

The two most significant parts of this review process are ensuring the contractor’s dust mitigation process is appropriate and the site is clean to the fullest extent before demolition begins, Cunningham said. The process also involves a review of the demolition applications by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to further determine whether the environment and public health are being protected, she said.

Even if the demolition applications are approved, inspectors from the city’s buildings and public health departments would be on-site prior to the demolition and every day that work is being done, Cunningham said.

“And we will have the authority to stop work at any time if we see something that doesn’t look quite right to us, or that rises to a level where we are worried that the city’s ordinances or regulations and rules are not being appropriately followed,” she said.

MAT Limited has contracted Heneghan Wrecking Co. for demolition work on the Damen Silos, said director of operations Kurt Berger.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Berger presented the company’s plans for demolition, should the permits be issued.

The plans include using cranes and high-reach excavators to bring down the buildings slowly, misters and other dust mitigating devices on the machines and around the site, air-quality controls that test every 10 minutes and barges along the site of the Chicago River to ensure nothing from the demolition falls into the water, Berger said.

The Damen Silos, 2860 S. Damen Ave., seen on March 7, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

More than 100 neighbors turned out to Tuesday’s meeting, many of them speaking out against the demolition and the future development of the site by MAT Limited.

The silos have been beloved by urban explorers for years. They served as a backdrop in the 2014 film “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

The 15-story grain silos were built in 1906 by the Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and they had the capacity for 400,000 bushels of grain. Much of the interiors are now covered in graffiti.

The state owned the property since 1928, when it was deeded to the Illinois Department of Transportation. 

The property previously was used to mix construction materials for state roads, but IDOT transferred the property to Central Management Services for disposal in 2005, according to state officials.

The state ultimately sold the silos since they had no use for them, officials determined.

Kate Eakin, president of the McKinley Park Development Council, said she and many neighbors are devastated by the loss of the Damen Silos. She called it a “lost opportunity” for the silos not to be rehabbed into something creative.

Mary Lu Seidel with Preservation Chicago also said it’s disappointing for the silos not to be preserved for its historical and cultural significance along the riverfront. She said she’s visited rehabbed grain silos in other cities, and suggested the ones here be converted to some sort of recreational facility.

“This site should be a Chicago landmark,” Seidel said. “You can’t do this to this neighborhood.”

Both Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois named the silos on their “most endangered” buildings lists this year.

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