Michael Reese land eyed for Olympic Village

July 8, 2008 8:38:15 PM PDT
There's a new plan for housing Olympic athletes should the Games be played in Chicago in 2016. And it would likely mean dramatic changes for the city's near South Side.

Mayor Richard M. Daley's team calls it "creative financing" that will not leave taxpayers on the hook. The city has cut a deal to borrow $85 million to buy the Michael Reese Hospital site. But taxpayers won't owe a cent unless there are significant problems that delay the sale of the land for several years.

Sound too good to be true? The mayor's staff insists it's not.

They call themselves the "Slow Break Brigade." They're all former athletes who these days spend as much time exercising their jaw bones as they do their bodies. Topic One Tuesday night: The Olympic Village that may be built in their backyard.

"The change has already started. It is the Olympics that is going to escalate that change," said Thomas Deaderick, South Side resident.

The city's original Olympic plan called for a $1.1 billion village to be constructed over the top of truck yards south of McCormick Place. Practicality and cost are conspiring against that idea. The new plan calls for 7,500 apartments and condos along with 1,000 hotel rooms that could be converted into residences to be built on the Michael Reese site at 29th & South Ellis.

If new money is found, the truck yard could be covered, creating a lakefront connection similar to, but less regal than, Millennium Park.

"I think this is prime lakefront real estate and there is not much prime real estate left. So I think this is a very attractive lakefront development opportunity. I don't think the city is going to have any problems," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 4th Ward.

A new neighborhood means a new legacy, which is key to the International Olympic Committee.

"Creating urban legacy is important to the community, contributing to society is important legacy factor for the IOC. So we have a much better chance to have a more profound impact by increasing the scale," said Patrick Ryan, Chicago 2016 Chairman.

New development, though, can bring new problems, especially for long-time residents who may like the idea of the Olympics but worry about being priced out of their own neighborhood.

"What's affordable to you might not be affordable to me. That's the way I feel about that," said Floyd Glover, South Side resident.

Michael Reese landowners will donate $20 million to the city to pay for demolition and interest between now and when a private developer buys the land.

The mayor's staff says this site will be developed regardless of whether Chicago wins the right to host the Olympics.

"Frankly, we want to be very involved in who gets the development. It's a key development site, minutes from the Loop and the lakefront, and we're very confident it'll get redeveloped," said Arnold Randall, Chicago planning and development commissioner.

The new site is nearly 75 acres. The mayor's office hopes it'll be a catalyst for further growth on the city's Near South Side.


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