Plan aims to revitalize SE Side with music festival

April 7, 2011 4:51:37 PM PDT
A new plan to redevelop the former site of the U.S. Steel plant on Chicago's Southeast Side includes turning the land into a tourist destination beginning with a summer concert by the Dave Matthews Band.

That lakefront property has been abandoned since the early 1990s.

Chicago's Southeast Side has certainly not been spared difficult times. But unlike other neighborhoods, its troubles began long before this latest economic downturn.

The city, developers and others are hoping to redevelop the miles of open lakefront will help breathe economic life back into the area. It may not look like Chicago's newest lakefront community now, but 7th Ward alderman Sandi Jackson says just wait.

"There are many, many things planned for this site. People know when they come here that this site is special," Jackson told ABC7.

Southeast Side officials and others announced plans to revitalize the area by initially bringing the second of four planned Dave Matthews Band Caravan festivals there this summer.

"I didn't even hesitate. I said, 'this is the place to go.' Where are you going to find 600 acres in a safe part of the city, 20 minutes from downtown where there is ample safe parking?" said Jerry Mickelson, Jam Productions.

The three-day mega-music fest scheduled for July will be the first ever event held at Lakeside Development and features a diverse lineup of musical talent with Dave Matthews headlining each night.

"There's a lot of arenas. There are very few locations where you can see skyline like this, and that's what Dave was looking for," said Mark Campana, co-president, Live Nation North America Concerts.

Temporary stages will be built on what was once the U.S Steel South Works Plant. Concert promoters will pay for any cleanup.

The hope is the ambitious redevelopment plan will jumpstart the area's economy wounded when the steel mill closed in 1992.

"The short term temporary terms of cleaning up the site are essential to the folks who live in the neighborhood. The revenues that are going to be generated by the city, also a boom especially in these down times," said Alderman John Pope, 10th Ward. "Phase one is what we're focusing on right now. We're trying to attract retailers."

Townhomes and affordable housing and commercial space would sit on the 600-acres next to Lake Michigan from 79th to 87th streets, encompassing the once proposed location of a Solo Cup company plant.

The project could take 40 years to complete because of environmental issues created by non-toxic remnants from steel production that were left behind.

"The problem is that site is a SLAG landfill site. And U.S. Steel filled the site with byproducts of steel over the years decades ago. So there are a lot of development challenges in terms of what's underground," said Nasutsa Mabwa, McCaffery Interests.

After the plant closed, U.S. Steel paid for the environmental cleanup which, according to published reports, led to state certification that people could safely live there.

The first phase of the development is slated to include low-income housing as well as over one hundred acres that will be designated as green space.

Community groups are also on board with the development because of the need to get neighborhood people back to work.

Many area residents are also supporting the effort simply because they want to see Chicago's Southeast Side shine again.