Michael Reese site

A view across the Canadian National and Metra tracks toward the Michael Reese site looking to the northwest from 31st Street on Feb. 18.

The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously voted through the zoning plans for the Michael Reese megadevelopment, clearing a path for approval in City Council in the coming weeks. 

The $3.8 billion, two-phase development — spearheaded by GRIT, a consortium of local developers — will take up 71 acres in Bronzeville at the former hospital site, running from 26th Street to 31st Street and Lake Park Avenue to Martin Luther King Drive. 

GRIT includes Farpoint Development, Loop Capital Management, McLaurin Development Partners, Draper & Kramer, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and Bronzeville Community Development Partnership.

The project will now go to the Zoning Committee; if it passes, it goes in front of the full City Council. 

During the first phase of development, the current 27th Street Metra station would potentially move to 31st Street, and over 300 units of senior housing are set to be built. This phase includes the ARC Innovation Center, led by the Israeli Sheba Medical Center, which will provide a space for medical research that the developers say is in part intended to benefit local residents. The Bronzeville Welcoming Center, a 40,000-square-foot community space, will be part of the ARC building. 

Michael Reese rendering

A rendering of the completed first phase of Michael Reese redevelopment, let by the GRIT team of real estate firms

The first phase of the project also includes the renovation of the Singer Pavilion, the only one of the original hospital campus buildings that was not demolished, as well as a plan to create a 31st Street Park. 

The second phase, which will run from 2023 to 2041, is by far the larger part of the project, with plans to create 6.7 million square feet of retail, residential and mixed-use development and a $3 billion price tag. (The first phase, by contrast, includes 1.1 million square feet.) 

Overall, 20% of the residential housing built on-site will be affordable. 

During public comment, several residents, as well as a union representative from UNITE HERE Local 1, expressed concern about the status of hospitality jobs that could be part of the project’s second phase. 

In a letter, the union representative asked the commission not to vote the project through until an agreement was reached with GRIT to ensure that there would be “high-quality, family-sustaining jobs that employ residents from areas of the City that have traditionally experienced the highest levels of unemployment and poverty.” 

singer pavilion

The Singer Pavilion stands alone as the only building remaining in what was the 48.6-acre campus of the Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center in Bronzeville. The current development plan slates the pavilion for "adaptive reuse." 

Teresa Córdova, chair of the plan commission, asked about the objection during the hearing. Morgan Malone, Director of Development and External Affairs at Farpoint Development, one of the GRIT companies, said the group is in talks with UNITE HERE to come to a resolution. 

“We know that we’re not quite sure when the market is going to bounce back on financing, but how can we work together?”, said Malone. “We’re bringing all the developers to the table and UNITE HERE so we can all have a conversation about what that looks like and what next steps are going to be.” 

Ald. Sophia King (4th) said she was proud of the engagement process, singling out the creation of the Michael Reese Advisory Council as a particularly important aspect. 

“We fought early on just to have a community advisory council,” she said. “That was a huge fight, just have the community involved in a major project. As many have stated, we’ve now set the standard for how projects in the city should include communities.”

"We fought early on to exclude a casino from this development — that was something that came from the community. We all knew that this was where folks were looking, but the community spoke loudly.” 

King also said that she will work with UNITE HERE on the employment issue if there is a hospitality venue on the site, and “keep a living wage and good-paying jobs at the forefront of my thoughts.” 

“To truly be equitable and inclusionary about shifting these existing paradigms — especially when the paradigms are fostered by intentional and institutional racism — you just can't think it's going to happen,” she concluded. “Real equity will not happen organically. That’s just a fact.”

Editor

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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