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 — City officials are waiting for the outcome of a federal review before approving or denying demolition permits for the Southwest Side’s Damen Silos, a collection of grain elevators abandoned after a 1977 explosion.

MAT Limited bought the silos and their 23.4-acre plot at 2900 S. Damen Ave. from the state late last year and is applying for five permits to demolish the buildings. But demolition will require a United State Army Corps of Engineers permit, which includes a federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office said Tuesday.

The city will wait to make a decision about the demolition permits pending that review “and related community engagement, which may involve or raise environmental issues and mitigation measures relevant to the city’s review,” a mayoral spokesperson said.

In a statement Tuesday, MAT owner Michael Tadin Jr. said he understands the process needs to be done with “the utmost care.”

“As the owner of the property, we share that perspective and will continue to be actively engaged with the community and all interested stakeholders,” he said. “We look forward to the process moving ahead through the appropriate permitting and review channels and ultimately bringing forth a development that is part of the area’s revitalization.”

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.

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

The Damen Silos, popular among urban explorers, in the Lower West Side on Feb. 19, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

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 capacity for 400,000 bushels of grain. Much of the interiors are now covered in graffiti, as the site is popular among urban explorers.

The state had 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 it had no use for them, officials determined.

Leaders from key city agencies and the demolition company contracted by MAT Limited presented plans in August on how the site would be demolished, should the permits be approved.

An overwhelming majority of residents who spoke up during a community meeting on the issue in August said they are against demolishing the silos.

RELATED: As Demolition Of Damen Silos Looms, Southwest Siders Demand Transparency

Neighbors said they are skeptical they can trust the city and the demolition crew to be transparent about how the project could impact the environment and public health.

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

Many people referenced what has since become a flashpoint in the 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 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.

Department of Buildings Commissioner Matthew Beaudet said the silos and other buildings wouldn’t be taken down with explosives, but rather through a piece-by-piece process.

“This is not Hilco,” he said.

But many neighbors seemed unswayed.

MAT Limited 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.

MAT Limited is co-owned by Tadin; his father, Michael Tadin Sr.; and his sister. Michael Tadin Jr. also co-owns MAT Asphalt in McKinley Park.

Michael Tadin Jr. 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.

And in 2020, his family drew the attention of the city’s inspector general after they used hedges to block off public parkland, making it appear to be part of their own yard. The hedges were later ripped out.

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