A Sign of Things to Come? / The South Side Isn’t Your Monopoly Board

Notes From the 11/20/2019 Issue

A Sign of Things to Come? 

Last week, residents attempting to visit the South Shore Nature Sanctuary were greeted by a chain-link fence that blocked off access to the park. As Block Club Chicago reported, the barriers were a misunderstanding—the crew tearing down the adjacent beach house seems to have hired some overeager fence-builders—but it was an unwelcome sight at a space with a precarious future. “It was a shock to see the fencing go up, with no warning or accommodation for the people who use the sanctuary, and worrisome given all of the discussions about the future of that space lately,” one member of the South Shore Cultural Center Advisory Council told Block Club. The planned Tiger Woods golf course would break up the sanctuary, currently a stop-over point for monarch butterflies and migrating birds, into a series of smaller green patches. And 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston told the Sun-Times in August that the space has “been dead for some years,” a remark that led to harsh criticism from South Shore residents and environmentalists. There’s hope for anyone concerned about the sanctuary, however: plans for the golf course are stalled, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she’s skeptical about the project’s finances. But unless something changes, expect to see fences and construction crews back at the sanctuary for real, though perhaps later rather than sooner. 

The South Side Isn’t Your Monopoly Board

Farpoint Development and Golub & Co., two development firms, have purchased for $180 million the 1,675-unit Prairie Shores apartment complex that runs along King Drive from 26th to 31st. The sale makes Prairie Shores the largest apartment complex sold since 2007, but the transaction is notable for reasons other than its size: Farpoint is already heading the charge on developing 100 acres of lakefront land at 29th St adjacent to Prairie Shores, at the site formerly occupied by the old Michael Reese hospital. Directly south of 31st, Prairie Shores’ former owner, Draper and Kramer, still owns Lake Meadows, another apartment complex. But it’s easily conceivable that Lake Meadows is next-in-line to be sold; Draper and Kramer are the original developers of the property and haven’t invested much in it in recent years. In total, Farpoint now has a controlling hand in about 120 acres of lakefront, with potential for more acquisition soon.

Farpoint’s presence along this one-mile stretch of lakefront reads like a live-action remake of Monopoly. They didn’t purchase Boardwalk and Park Place all in one fell swoop like Related Midwest did with “The 78” nearby, but, parcel by parcel, the company is on track to own a huge chunk of South Side lakefront property. Before these recent movements, Farpoint was solidly focused on classic Loop-area office buildings, save for the odd self-storage facility or suburban office. When the Michael Reese project began in 2017, it started thinking bigger. 

“We have a lot of interest in what goes on there,” said Farpoint founding principal Scott Goodman of the purchase. “We wanted to control the next-door neighbor.” In the remainder of an interview with the Sun-Times, Goodman offers some typical promises about rents not rising too much, the community “ecosystem” being protected, and so forth. The extent to which these platitudes will be fulfilled remains to be seen. But Farpoint’s deeper intentions couldn’t be phrased any clearer—a company that in previous years has been about building office space to make money is becoming more and more about “control” of whole swaths of city space and the communities contained within them. Soon, Farpoint’s leadership seems to be dreaming, city residents can live in a Farpoint-owned building, take the Metra to work in Farpoint-developed office buildings, and then return home to shop at a Farpoint-conceived retail hub.

Maurice Cox, the new development chief of Lori Lightfoot’s administration, has styled himself as a planner of the people and released exciting new plans for focused neighborhood support of small businesses and residential life.  Good on Cox for supporting neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, but city leadership has to fight for communities by attacking developer arrogance directly too. Venture into that big-money, hyper-corporate, over-marketed world and break up the Monopoly board coalescing around Chicago. Corporations shouldn’t be able to own neighborhoods, plain and simple.

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