Vision for Residential Neighborhood at South Works Site Falls Through

The U.S. Steel South Works site in South Chicago (440 acres of land located at 85th Street and Lake Shore Drive) is one of the city’s largest undeveloped parcels of lakeshore property. European developers pitched an ambitious plan to transform the site into a mixed-use development, but now those plans have been scrapped. 

Rendering courtesy of Barcelona Housing Systems

Plans for a Mixed-Use Project

Last year, Irish company Emerald Living and Spanish company Barcelona Housing Systems announced plans to buy the U.S. Steel Works site for $64 million. Together, the developers envisioned brining 20,000 housing units, restaurants, a shopping complex, and a factory to the site. The purchase of the land was pending an environmental review to determine if the land had an issue with industrial toxins. 

If the development had gone forward, it could have had a significant impact on South Chicago by sparking further interest and development in the area. 

What Happened?

Barcelona Housing Systems exited the project first. Then, the development, dubbed the “New SouthWorks,” fell through completely when Emerald Living announced it would no longer buy the site, according to Curbed Chicago. 

In April of this year, the site ran into soil contamination issues, according to another Curbed Chicago report. Although Barcelona Housing Systems had backed away from the project at the time, Emerald Living reaffirmed its commitment to the New SouthWorks vision. 

Just a month later, Emerald Living called it quits on the development. The company did not explicitly cite the soil contamination, but alluded to the site’s “industrial heritage,” according to the Curbed Chicago report.

What’s Next for the U.S Steel South Works Site?

The plant located at the U.S. Steel South Works site closed in 1992. The development plan spearheaded by the two European developers is the second such proposal to fall short of completion.

McCaffery Interests had a 12-year partnership with U.S. Steel, which would have produced a mixed-use neighborhood at the site. The massive development would have featured boat docks, shopping centers, and a whole lot more, according to another Curbed Chicago report. That $4 billion vision—this one known as Chicago Lakeside Development—came to an end in 2016 when McCaffery ended the partnership. 

U.S. Steel is expected to put the 440-acre site back on the market. Whether or not a future developer will need to shoulder additional environmental remediation is unknown, according to the report.

The U.S. Steel South Works site is another example of the difficulties surrounding ambitious mega-developments. Finding the financing and taking a mega-project from concept to completion can be a huge hurdle to clear. Just look at how long the site for the former Chicago Spire remained a gaping hole. It took years to get another project for the Spire site up and running. How long it will take to land a new buyer for the South Works site remains a mystery.

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