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[ Public Land Grab ] Gov. Pritzker asked to delay sale of Damen Silos ... Groups ask for community meetings to discuss use of the 23-acre riverfront property, which is slated to be sold for $6.5 million

Gov. J.B. Pritzker should hold off on selling the Damen silos site along the Chicago River until the public can weigh in on the location’s future.Courtesy of @devodare_chicago

Decision on historic Chicago River site is too important to be made in a silo ..... The Damen silos beg for conversation on how they could be reused in a higher, better and more public way.

By CST Editorial Board Dec 5, 2022, 8:00pm CST

The view of the Damen Silos in 2016 from a drone camera.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker should hold off on selling the Damen silos site along the Chicago River until the public can weigh in on the location’s future.Courtesy of @devodare_chicago

The state’s decision to sell the Damen Silos, the historic river edge site at 29th Street and Damen Avenue, should be the cause of celebration and excitement.

Imagine the reuse possibilities for the highly visible site along the South Branch of the Chicago River. It could be one of the city’s most intriguing destinations, with the silos opened and placed into public service and the surrounding 23 acres refashioned into parkland.

Oh, but if only the state thought along those lines. Instead, the Pritzker administration put the site out to bid and accepted a $6.52 million offer — an amount double the required minimum bid amount — from MAT Limited Partnership, a company owned by asphalt manufacturer Michael Tadin Jr.

Tadin hasn’t publicly announced plans for the property.

But many in McKinley Park and surrounding communities, along with river activists and a growing group of Chicago architects and planners, want the state to halt the deal and let the public have a voice in determining the site’s future.

“Simply put, the sale of public land deserves public comment,” the non-profit McKinley Park Development Council and a coalition of groups wrote in a letter sent Monday to Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “We seek to ensure transparency in public land transactions and to preserve as much riverfront property as possible for public benefit.”

And they’re right. For the state to outright sell the silos to industry without input from the community is a mistake. This special site begs for a conversation on how it could be reused in a higher, better and more public way.

Communities should decide silos’ future

The state’s sale of the site to an industrial concern is a potential throwback to a time when there was a less-enlightened view of the river, particularly the waterway’s South Branch.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, slaughterhouses, lumberyards and other industrial uses were allowed to line-up along the South Branch, making the river part sewer/part alley while physically cutting it off from the surrounding communities.

The Damen silos were built by the old Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1907. The State of Illinois later bought the facility to store road-making materials.

But over the 115 years since the facility was built — and as many of these pollution-prone factories along the waterway went out of business — we began to see the river as a recreational and environmental asset rather than a place to locate industry.

That’s why the decision to sell the Damen silos to MAT Limited Partnership without a meaningful public discussion to determine the site’s future is wrong.

In addition to the letter the McKinley Park area community groups sent Monday to Pritzker, a coalition of more than 80 Chicago architectural professionals, including the internationally recognized architect Jeanne Gang, wrote to the governor last month asking him to reconsider the sale.

“In the Loop and on the Northside, the river has become a beacon for restoration and economic redevelopment, while the communities of the Southside have been largely excluded from these benefits,” they wrote.

“We urge the State to withdraw from the sale of this land, and to give the communities of McKinley Park, Pilsen and Bridgeport the right to decide its future for themselves.”

A better way

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services said the state is required to sell the property to the highest bidder.

But the group led by the McKinley Park Development Council wants the state to sell or transfer the Damen silos site to the city rather than Tadin.

“The city can then work with the community to transform this site into a community asset providing local residents with opportunities for recreation, education, active transportation, and more — all designed in alignment with existing community development plans and riverfront protections,” the group wrote in its letter to Pritzker.

Not a bad idea. The city declined to say if that’s an option, but it will likely have to weigh in on the plan anyway. The site is currently zoned to permit heavy industrial use, but any new construction on the parcel will require city approval because of the riverfront location.

Meanwhile, there has to be a better use for this unique site. Pritzker would do well to hold off on finalizing the sale, and give the communities the time and space to have a proper hand in shaping the silos’ future.

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Speak up for the Chicago River: Don’t sell Damen Silos site to asphalt plant owner

The Damen Silos site should be a park, a community asset, a job training center, an arts and cultural amenity, and part of a more forward-thinking South Branch vision for this century.

By Philip Enquist Nov 13, 2022, 4:00am CST

The state should drop the idea of selling the Damen Silos site along the Chicago River to the owner of an asphalt plant, an expert writes.

The state should drop the idea of selling the Damen Silos site along the Chicago River to the owner of an asphalt plant, an expert writes.Mark Capapas/Sun-Times

The State of Illinois needs a wakeup call about the Damen Silos site along the Chicago River.

We have been witnessing the dramatic transformation of the Chicago River from an industrial corridor into a centerpiece of Chicago and the next great park system. In many places it is a vibrant public waterfront, with a rich river ecology inviting all, both human and wildlife, to visit.

Chicagoans can see this transformation on the North Branch along the east edge of Horner Park. Native plantings, attracting bird life and inviting people to stroll through tall grasses along the river’s edge, have been a great success for the surrounding neighborhoods.

We also witnessed the creation of Ping Tom Park and the importance that the Chicago River plays in the Chinatown community; the Wild Mile just north of Wolf Point; and the city’s investments in boathouses on all branches of the river. Most dramatically, the rebirth of the main branch with the downtown Riverwalk now attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the edge of the river.

Opinion

These are not one-off efforts. They are part of a broader plan to bring the river back to the people of Chicago as a healthy, natural and recreational resource. The long-term economic impact of this transformation is often overlooked, but is a substantial component of our economic success.

As is often the case, private investments follow forward-thinking public ones. With Lincoln Yards to the north and The 78 to the south, along with the University of Illinois Discovery Partners Institute, Chicagoans will be seeing more open space, more public access, and more recreational river access soon.

Organizations such as Friends of the Chicago River, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Openlands, Urban Rivers, Friends of the Parks and the dozens of other organizations participating in the City of Chicago’s River Ecology and Governance Task Force have advocated for years that Chicago and the region need to restore, protect, and re-wild this long-neglected water asset.

The Chicago River has, without doubt, shifted from a primarily industrial and sewage infrastructure to a living, breathing, natural resource that is rich with biodiversity and serves as an important and beloved recreational amenity. This is especially important in communities that lack open space and have other environmental stressors and inequities.

So, I just don’t get it.

Someone tell me why the State of Illinois is taking a unique 23.4-acre South Branch site that is framed on three sides by the Chicago River and canal slips, and is also home to the dramatic architecture of grain silos, and selling it to MAT, an asphalt plant owner?

This is a step backward that challenges what so many have been working on for decades.

An idea from the past

Pilsen is immediately to the north and McKinley Park to the south — two neighborhoods, rich in history that are working to improve their quality of life and access to the river. How does this decision fit with their community planning strategies?

The state needs to understand that the idea of putting material yards along the Chicago River is a thing of the past. In the long run, the environmental impact and public health costs will be higher for all of us. The Chicago community, its current and last two mayors, and many alderpersons have endorsed ecological and people-centric visions for this river.

The Damen Silos site should be a park, a community asset, a job training center, an arts and cultural amenity, and part of a more forward-thinking South Branch vision for this century.

This is a plea to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth to halt the State of Illinois sale of this South Branch river land. This decision will not make Chicago a healthier place to live and work, it will not support the biodiversity and resiliency that our city needs, nor will it help our air quality and water quality, which ties directly to the health and wellness of Chicagoans.

It is time now for all of us to stand up together and speak for this remarkable river.

Philip Enquist, FAIA (Fellow, American Institute of Architects), is an architect and urbanist.

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By Brett Chase Updated Dec 5, 2022, 6:47pm CST

https://chicago.suntimes.com

A Southwest Side economic development organization, joined by seven other groups, asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday to delay the sale of the Damen Silos along the Chicago River to allow for public meetings before determining the fate of the 23 acres of industrial land.

Pritzker’s administration announced a plan last month to sell the property to the owner of an asphalt plant in McKinley Park that has been the target of numerous odor and nuisance complaints from its neighbors.

MAT Asphalt co-owner Michael Tadin Jr. and his family were the high bidders for the long-dormant silos near 29th and Damen, offering $6.5 million.

With seven industrial corridors, the Southwest Side has been at the center of a number of fights between residents and businesses over polluting industry.

“Failure to engage community stakeholders is a social and environmental justice issue for communities like ours, who face historical inequities and will be directly impacted by development on this site for generations to come,” Kate Eakin, president of McKinley Park Development Council, wrote in a letter.

The letter was co-signed by Friends of the Parks, Active Transportation Alliance, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and several community organizations, including Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Neighbors for Environmental Justice and Southwest Environmental Alliance.

“We deserve to have a voice,” Eakin said in an interview. “We all have to live with this.”

Pritzker has said that holding on to the property costs taxpayers money, and he wants to close the deal this month.

The state “is required to sell property to the highest bidder to get the best deal for taxpayers,” a statement from Pritzker’s Department of Central Management Services said.

The grain silos, which have been idle for decades, have been owned by the state for more than 90 years and were featured in the 2014 movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Tadin, who hasn’t announced details about his plans for the property, has said he’s done much for the riverfront, including a housing development.

“I’ve been improving the riverfront for over 10 years,” he said in a recent interview.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/2022/12/5/23495245/gov-pritzker-asked-to-delay-sale-of-damen-silos



Comments:

December 12, 2022 at 8:55 PM

By: Jose Serrato

The silos on 29th and off of Damen ave.

To whom it may concern. We see the North Branch of the Chicago River flourish into beautiful areas for the community. And when it comes to the South Branch we see nothing but industry along its banks. We have so much to look forward to like bubbly Creek! Yuck! That area where they turn the river current around is the only progress I seen taking place on the south ranch. It has a beautiful history of how they did it and the manpower it took to create what an enormous venture like turning the stop range current in the opposite direction. They did a little monument for that but that was about it! And that's been well over 20 years ago. And now we're faced with this dilemma selling to the highest bidder! Too a company that has disregarded the plead of the community. Please!!! The residence in the surrounding communities and the people that cruise the river in their boats can also benefit. A thought-out plan to build a Riverside Oasis with state of the art recreational area. Boat slips for boaters to dock and enjoy our new Riverside Oasis. That means not just the surrounding communities but also people that come down the river in their boat seeking adventure! A field house with all the amenities. It would be nice to see a little bridge connecting the existing riverwalk. Here's an idea raise all the silos except for the square building rehab that one and created a state of the art recreational Hall. A floor for gamers and a floor for music and another floor for theater etc etc.and it's expressway accessible and we can make this a dream come true for the entire city of Chicago. But how long will the South side be denied progress for its residents along the River front...

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