The South Side Gets Its Lakefront Back

The little brick office at 85th and Green Bay is the last remaining structure from the old U.S. Steel mill. It used to be the company credit union, and there’s still a vintage clock on the wall, hands pointed upward to noon. U.S. Steel closed for good in 1992, but the 369 acres it occupied for nearly a century is about to find a new purpose, starting in this building.

It’s the marketing center for Lakeside Development, which, if all goes according to plan, will eventually have 13,575 new homes, 17.5 million square feet of retail space -- and revive the economic fortunes of the Bush, a South Side neighborhood that’s been struggling ever since U.S. Steel shut down.

As project manager Nasutsa Mabwa points out, it’s the last piece of undeveloped land on the Chicago lakefront, and it’s 10 miles from the Loop -- the same distance as Evanston.

“This will be place that’s teeming with parks, really a city within a city on the South Side,” says project manager Nasutsa Mabwa. “This is the only community in Chicago where you’ll have Lake Shore Drive to the west of where you live.”

Since it’s just a few miles down South Shore Drive from the University of Chicago, Lakeside Development even wants to bid for the Obama Presidential Library, Mabwa said.

The extension of Lake Shore Drive has already been graded, Mabwa during a drive around the property, and will be paved this year. After that, Lakeside can start building its first phase, a mixed-use development along 79th Street. It will include 1,000 rental units --  “the market cannot support condos,” Mabwa said -- and a shopping center. Lakeside has letters of intent from “a very well-known grocer” and “a very well-known large anchor.”

The old slag heaps, which have been covered with Peoria River bottomland that was shipped up the Illinois River by barge, will become a park. The city is also spending millions to extend the lakefront path through the development. The slip which once welcomed ore freighters is becoming a sailboat marina.

On the day Ward Room visited, a team from digital networking company also stopped by, to talk about wiring the development for the Internet. They climbed the four-story observation tower, which, on a clear day, offers one of the city’s best views of the Chicago skyline. Inside the marketing center, they also got to see a slick video, narrated by Bill Kurtis, with testimonials from Mayor Daley, Ald. Ed Burke and Ald. Sandi Jackson.

The South Side is a digital desert, so wiring Lakeside could bring the Internet to nearby neighborhoods.

“Given the fact that you’ve got nothing, it’s going to bring uplift to the South Side of Chicago,” Mabwa said.

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