Power plant plans take shape
Park, some kind of light industry likely, but what else will happen with 22-acre site?
06/27/2012 1:37 PM
The coal-fired power plant in the middle of Pilsen is finally shutting down this September after more than 100 years, and more than half of the 44-acre site at 1111 W. Cermak Road will turn into something new.
What exactly it will become isn’t clear yet, and the plant’s owner Midwest Generation hasn’t started marketing it yet. But at a community meeting Tuesday night, a panel made up of community activists, politicians and officials from Midwest Generation and ComEd talked about possibilities for the future at the site. The meeting was run by the Delta Institute, a green-focused nonprofit that’s been guiding the process so far.
With such a big site to deal with, it’s unlikely that any one thing will take it over. But two of the most likely possibilities seem to be a park at the south end of the plant along the riverfront, and some kind of commercial or industrial use further in from the water.
Doug McFarlan, Midwest Generation’s vice president of public affairs, said a park is one of many possible uses for the site.
“Obviously, the mayor has a vision for the long term of cleaning up the river and making it more accessible. So the initial reaction is yeah, maybe there could be [a park on the river],” McFarlan said. “ComEd still has equipment on the site they need to access, so the question is, could you still do that and section off the rest for someone else? But I will say that seems to be a promising possible use for a small section of the land, and we’re happy to do that.”
What could become of the rest of the site, though, is a bit hazy. Some electrical equipment will remain on the site — mostly transmission equipment owned by ComEd, as well as some reserve generators that kick in on the days with the most demand for electricity. That still leaves a big portion of the site left to be redeveloped.
One of the strongest pushes is to replace the power plant with other industrial uses, albeit clean ones that don’t pollute. McFarlan said Midwest Generation has been approached by one group in particular that wants to use the site, a company that makes storage batteries that hook into the electrical grid. The site would be ideal for that group because of its location at one of Chicago’s electrical hubs. However, they would only take up a small portion of the site.
That company was introduced to the task force, something that McFarlan said they’ll continue to do moving forward.
“If and when we get a buyer, we plan to introduce them to the committee,” McFarlan said.
Beyond that though, McFarlan said they haven’t been approached by anyone else with a specific use for the site — mostly just companies interested in the demolition and rebuilding process.
Getting the site up to snuff for anyone to use it again will be no easy task. Even though hazardous materials aren’t stored on the site, more than 100 years of industrial use will have left its mark.
Jean Pogge, CEO of the Delta Institute, said it’ll be a long process.
“As you all know, a brownfield, wherever it sits, takes a long time to redevelop,” she said. “The good news is these are very large parcels, located next to water, utilities and rail.”
Regardless of how much environmental reclamation work is done on the former plant, the sites won’t be suitable for residential use, she said.
At the meeting, many Pilsen residents spoke out about what they’d like to see at the site. Victoria Romero, a 40-year resident of the neighborhood, said she’d like to see space for smaller, local businesses. One particular need is for a funeral home, she said.
“While companies with big money may come to the table, please make room for mom and pop companies, too,” she said. “One of our long-lasting needs is for a funeral home. There’s not one single funeral home in Pilsen with enough parking and room for our large, Latino families.”
Filipe Mejia, community programs coordinator for Benito Juarez High School, said he’d like to see space for a sports complex for his school — big enough for a football or baseball field, if possible.
Kenneth Corrigan said he’d like to see the old power plant building restored and turned into a public market, like Pike Place in Seattle. With the vibrant multicultural history that’s surrounded the market for years, it would provide the perfect opportunity to recapture that energy.
Rick Bak said he’d like to see the original power plant building restored, and is leading an effort to preserve the building through a website, www.savefisk.org.
Not everyone was content at the meeting to simply cheer the plant’s shutdown and provide suggestions for its future. Leila Mendez, whose sister died of a brain disease called panencephalitis, blamed the death on pollution from the plant and said Midwest Generation needed to try harder to repay those who have suffered from living nearby.
“Go back and tell them you need to do more,” she said. “We know you have the money. We deserve more.”