I have more than a decade of personal history with that now newsy, beleaguered 62 acres of undeveloped "Tony Rezko" land in the South Loop that extends southwest from Roosevelt and Clark. The land that the City of Chicago suddenly wants to buy. And find a developer for.
It all started more than 10 years ago, when the wife of a Cook County Circuit Court judge visited a board meeting of a South Loop neighborhood organization I was on the board of. She came-a-calling to get feedback for a real estate developer she was working for named Tony Rezko. In addition to contributing money to the George W. Bush campaign--which I didn't like--he had purchased the South Loop land and wanted to develop it into something the neighborhood might go for, she said. She asked us board members what we wanted.
"A park!" said some. "Townhomes!" said others. "Some nice shops!" said yet another. Rezko, who had a not-so-good reputation in the area for shoddy construction (although he did build some fantastic-looking Gilded Age-looking rowhouses on Prairie Avenue that knock your socks off they're so pretty and authentic--and expensive--that I always thought he deserved a Key to the City for them), made the board a little suspicious.
Some of us even wanted to keep the land just the way it was. Natural. Filled with coyotes. The South Loop Elementary School had sponsored a fundraiser run through the plot of land and I was shocked to find that when you ran around within the trees and other vegetation, you had the distinct feeling you were in a nature preserve in the wilds of Wisconsin or Michigan or something. Why not have some truly natural land so near downtown Chicago as a testament to the natural history of Chicago?
Eventually, Rezko had a plan--a mixed use development--drawn up by an architecture firm.
But Rezko soon had his troubles; he got arrested and convicted. And that was the last we heard from the judge's wife. We heard Tony unloaded the land for $130 million onto a cohort, who perhaps wanted to build a shopping center. And that was that. Except for the fact that whoever bought it razed it. Leveled all the greenery. You'd look down at it from the Roosevelt Road bridge and all that stood out was that stream full of mud that was at one time the Chicago River, a part of which was decades ago abandoned so as to straighten the river out just to the west, to help ease the flow of car traffic through the Loop.
The razing was pretty sad. Although in a short time it got full of foliage again. Which just goes to show. You can't keep good land down.
Now, suddenly, the City wants the land. For a casino, perhaps? Or to resell it to an "appropriate developer?" Whatever it is, Rahm, as usual, is being cryptic and tightlipped and treating us Chicagoans like a bunch of idiots. I suspect if there's no casino planned--owned and run by Rahm's politically connected pals--then there's some politically connected pals waiting in the wings to buy the land for a song, get all the TIF funds available that they can for constructing some boring piece of trash that no one really wants--and all with no personal investment of the developers' money, mind you. And that will be that.
Or will it?