By Nawal Dairi
The long-shuttered Michael Reese hospital site will undergo about 15 years of development, eventually featuring a community center, data center, life sciences campus, and 31st St. Metra station along with retail and housing (both affordable and market-based), according to the developers and City officials.
Project leaders estimate redevelopment agreements will conclude by the end of the year, and Alderman Sophia King predicts construction will begin in approximately three years and continue through four or five phases.
The project represents a collaborative effort of a global, research, innovation, and tourism team (GRIT) created by lead developers at Farpoint Development. The acronym also stands for, “get ready, it’s time,” in reference to economic growth on the South Side.
The GRIT team consists of Farpoint Development, Loop Capital, Draper & Kramer, McLaurin Development, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, and the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership. While not part of GRIT, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, serves as the project’s consulting architect agency.
“The GRIT team was chosen with thoughtfulness to collaborate with people from different backgrounds and insights,” Eric Helfand, partner at Farpoint Development, said. “All of which will be helpful for the future development of the site. We constructed our team for everyone to have a voice at the table for decision making. This represents the overall process of how the site is being built. Alderman Sophia King has created a committee as well.”
King developed the Michael Reese Community Advisory Committee, which consists of 22 members from various backgrounds such as architecture, development, investment banking, and the community. Using specific criteria, such as experience in development and proximity to the site, she accepted members from a pool of more than 150 applicants.
“Any huge development should have a community leading the charge,” King said. “The committee has been helpful to the GRIT team in visualizing the development for the community.”
The committee currently meets every two weeks with City officials and GRIT to voice members’ opinions. Recently, the committee developed subcommittees based on expertise, enabling members to assist with architecture, infrastructure, and transportation concepts.
The development site counts 100 acres, with 48.6 acres consisting of the Michael Reese hospital site owned by the City, 40 acres owned by the Metropolitan Pier Exhibition Authority, and 11 acres owned by private businesses such as McDonald’s and Advocate.
“This is not a site where we had to demolish something and displace people,” Paula Robinson, president of the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, said. “This is at the head of the Bronzeville south lakefront, where we can reignite the area with renewable energy and infrastructure. We are reinvigorating an area of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Bronzeville presents an opportunity zone for Chicago under the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017. Both Farpoint and King feel redeveloping this area may help alleviate concerns about Chicago talent moving to the east and west coasts.
Jobs and opportunities
King elaborated on the development’s potential to build talent in Chicago. “Life sciences is a practical approach to harnessing the talent leaving the city to stay here by building a health campus,” she said. “In doing so, we can also celebrate the history of the former Michael Reese site. This is an important piece of bringing jobs and an array of opportunities for the community to take advantage of.”
Plans for the development’s community center integrates efforts toward historic preservation. Along with creating a functional hub for community members, the center will incorporate historical visuals and celebrate Bronzeville’s history.
“We have a responsibility to maintain the culture of Bronze-ville,” said Regina Stilp, partner at Farpoint Development. “This is a development for the local and global community as well as a continuation of the skyline of Chicago.”
The development also will address five core ideas through the acronym WRELM: work, relate, eat, learn, and move. WRELM seeks to develop what Scott Goodman, partner at Farpoint Development, referred to as “the healthy community of tomorrow.”
Naomi Davis, president and CEO of Blacks in Green, noted the need for walkable villages in the region. “We want the City to endorse and adopt our sustainable square mile where African American families can walk to work, walk to shop, walk to learn, and walk to play,” Davis said. “I believe that the City has an outright duty to use one of its most precious assets, City owned land, in whatever construct of equity agenda. I know this is what Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to do, and I know it’s difficult, but if we can send a man into deep space and return him safely, we can do this.”
Mayor Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative seeks to gather corporations and community organizations to invest in opportunities for ten southern and western Chicago neighborhoods, one of which is Bronzeville.
“Our intention was to invest in the South Side,” said Elle Ramel, partner at Farpoint Development. “For us, it’s a nice alignment because when Mayor Lightfoot issued INVEST South/West we had already started. This development is consistent with the administration’s vision of investing in the South and West Sides and the City’s move toward economic growth.”
The group planning the project has obtained an anchor tenant in a medical innovation center to be founded by an Israeli hospital, Sheba Medical Center, located outside Tel Aviv. The ARC Innovation Center would anchor a health-science cluster that would create new biomedical technologies.
ARC stands for Accelerate, Redesign, Collaboration. It would be located in part of an existing building at the corner of 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
The project will not include a casino, King said. “The community is adamantly against a casino at the former Michael Reese site,” she noted. “Casinos are known to have deleterious impacts on existing communities, especially communities of color.”
Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM) is the architectural and engineering firm working on the plans.
Farpoint Development’s website is https://www.farpointdev.com/, and the phone number is (312) 971-2525. For the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, log on to https://bronzevillepartners.com/, or call (773) 532-9850. Blacks in Green’s website is https://www.blacksingreen.org/ Alderman King’s website is http://www.aldsophiaking.com/, and her phone number is (773) 536-8103. SOM’s website is www.som.com, and the phone number is (312) 554-9090.