Michael Reese development would include active transportation improvements

Proposed cross-sections of local streets. Image: DPD
Proposed cross-sections of local streets. Image: DPD

Plans to redevelop the 49-acre former Michael Reese Hospital site – which include proposals to reconfigure local streets to make them better for walking, biking, and transit – cleared a key hurdle yesterday as the Chicago Plan Commission voted to approve them. The $3.8 billion, 20-year proposal from a team of local developers led by Farpoint Development still needs to clear City Council’s Zoning committee before going before the full Council for a final vote, possibly next week.

The city of Chicago acquired the site in 2009 for a potential Olympic Village site in conjunction with former mayor Richard M. Daley’s failed bid to host the 2016 summer games, and cleared most of the land in following months. The city eventually issued a request for proposals for the site, and selected the Farpoint-led group, called GRIT, to purchase and develop the site.

An aerial view of the proposed redevelopment.
An aerial view of the proposed redevelopment.

GRIT’s mixed-use redevelopment plan is expected to move forward with special zoning known as a Master Plan Development. This zoning designation allows for the construction of a phased, mixed-income community that includes a health technology innovation center, retail and commercial uses, public green spaces, community spaces, and market-rate and affordable housing, totaling 7.8 million square feet. According to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, the plan will also reuse the Singer Pavilion, the only remaining Reese building on the site, for urban agriculture, arts and cultural events, and workforce development and vocational programming.

DPD says the development will generate nearly 50,000 job, including about 37,500 permanent positions. Unite Here Local 1, a union representing hospitality and food service workers, has been lobbying for the developers to hire Bronzeville residents for the project, Block Club Chicago reported.

Aerial view of the project area as it appears today. Image: Google Maps
Aerial view of the project area as it appears today. Image: Google Maps

Unsurprisingly, this large development will involve transportation infrastructure changes to the area, bounded by 26th and 31st streets, Lake Park Avenue, and Martin Luther King Drive. Lake Park, Cottage Grove, and Vernon avenues will be extended, with Cottage Grove as the site’s main street, and Vernon will also be straightened in some locations. New east-west streets will also be built.

The city says traffic signals along these streets will be upgraded to prioritize pedestrian safety and traffic flow. There will be new stoplights at 31st and Lake Park, as well as Cottage Grove’s intersections with 29th, 27th, and 26th streets.

Transit improvements may happen as well, including a possible relocation of the 27th Street Metra Electric District line station to 31st street. It would be possible to access the Metra platform at both 29th and 31st. The new station site would be served by existing or future bus routes.

As for biking, Divvy stations would be installed at the Michael Reese site. 31st Street, which currently has curbside protected lanes, could see the bikeways consolidated into a two-way raised side path on the north side of the street, which would be integrated with a proposed new park. (Around five acres of public parks and another roughly 5 acres of open spaces on the parcels of developed land are planned.) The path would be ten feet wide, similar to the Dearborn two-way protected bike lanes, but with relatively few intersections with streets or driveways.

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Rendering of the proposed site as seen from Cottage Grove, including the new raised side path.

Construction for the development will be broken down into three phases and will take about 20 years to complete. Phase One includes the health innovation center, a Bronzeville Welcoming Center, around 300 units of senior housing, and 31st Street Park. The innovation center will include 230 underground parking spaces. This phase could begin as early as this fall and wrap up in 2026.

Phase Two includes a data center, commercial office space, retail, restaurants and/or bars, a healthcare facility, more residential units, and additional public open spaces. That phase construction is expected to begin in 2023, but it wouldn’t be completed until 2041.

Rendering of part of 31st Street Park.Source: Chicago Department of Planning and Development
Rendering of part of 31st Street Park.

Overall I’m excited for the new development coming to the Bronzeville area. My hope is that these changes, which will raise property values, will benefit current residents and not cause housing displacement due to higher property taxes and rents. I didn’t see any mention of the number of affordable housing units in the Plan Commission presentation aside from the senior housing portion. I would like to see more affordable housing on the site and I’m sure I’m not alone in that desire.

Check out DPD’s presentation on the Michael Reese plan here.

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