Will Rezko’s Lot in the South Loop Ever Be Developed?

It’s prime real estate, but nobody has been able to build on the 62 acres near Roosevelt Road and the Chicago River. Should the city just leave it vacant?

Photo:Charles Cherney / Chicago Tribune  

Problems developing a prime piece of South Loop real estate started well before Tony Rezko’s purchase.

What’s happening with that 62-acre prime real estate just south of Roosevelt Road and across the Chicago river from the train yard? It’s possible it will forever be a haven for urban coyotes and the homeless.

No one has been capable of building on it since it was artificially created in the 1920’s, after the city spent 9 million straightening the Chicago river. Antonin “Tony” Rezko, who purchased the property in 2001 and then sold it for more than double the price in 2005 when he couldn’t get his mixed-use plan off the ground, is in prison.

The Iraqi billionaire he sold it to has done nothing with the property since, and last we heard, the city now wants it. When discussing possible uses, a casino came up. Don’t fret about this casino though, Chicago, that plan is as likely as Rezko’s condo and mall idea … and not just because that property is doomed.

After the crooked river canal was filled and what is now known as the Rezko property was born, the land was used as a train yard and entry point for Grand Central until the 1970’s. When the yard was demolished, no one bothered to hook up sewer or water pipes or run electricity to the property, or even build streets or sidewalks to the lot. Located 30 feet below Roosevelt Road, the property is practically inaccessible from three sides—and, if anyone wanted to build on it, they’d first have to invest significantly in preliminary infrastructure as well as clean up all the garbage and chemicals in the soil. This is partially why Rezko failed to do anything with the land—besides having to deal instead with his money laundering and fraud convictions, of course.

As far as a money sink the city can’t afford, Rezko’s lot is a massive one. Maybe ChicagoNow’s Bonnie McGrath is on target with a plan to keep it “natural,” or maybe even let it go the way of Lincoln Park Zoo’s boardwalk.

This way, the city doesn’t have to build anything extensive and dirt bikers, urban explorers and community members can continue using the property as is for their entertainment or fundraising purposes. Rumored developments that would increase traffic to an already congested area—casinos, an IKEA, a high-speed rail stations—are probably never going to happen. Well, maybe the high speed rail station could, but that is years in the making.

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