THREATENED: Despite Strong Community Objections, City Council Votes to Award Crawford Demolition Plan a ~$20M Tax-Break (Chicago 7 2019)

LVEJO community organizing effort at Chicago CIty Hall. Photo Credit: LVEJO

Despite strong community protests, on March 1, 2019 the Chicago City Council voted to approve a 12-year, $19.7 million tax break for Hilco Development’s planned distribution center on the site of the Crawford Station. Activists from Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and the Sierra Club attended the overflow meeting at City Hall to protest the tax-break and proposed new construction.

Crawford Station, the enormous coal-fired electric-generating power station that was considered an engineering wonder of the modern world after its completion in 1926, received a demolition permit on the first day of its 90-Day Demolition Delay hold. The site will likely be cleared to make way for the construction of a 1 million square foot cross dock truck facility with 188 truck docks.

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Executive Director Kim Wasserman-Nieto said given the historic respiratory issues in the neighborhood from industrial pollution and diesel trucks inundating the neighborhood, the development should not receive financial incentives. (Pena, Block Club Chicago, 3/13/19)

Meleah Geerstma, attorney and Midwest director of Health Equity and Water for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the proposed replacement of coal plant pollution with a warehouse that will bring [more] diesel trucks to the neighborhood is “the wrong thing to do for the health of this community.” (Cherone, Block Club Chicago, 9/13/18)

After being absent from City Hall since Dec. 31, 2018, when he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence after his wife said he struck her while intoxicated, former 22 nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Muñoz returned to City Hall to strongly push through the tax break for Hilco. (Quig, Block Club Chicago, 3/1/19)

“I’d hope that this 6b [tax break] application be considered as a local matter in the 22nd Ward where we’ve taken this debate at heart and decided that the investment and the repurposing of this vacant site to a site that will be creating these jobs is a much better use than just leaving it vacant,” said Muñoz.

After roughly an hour of questioning from aldermen about the project, Muñoz grew frustrated. “I don’t mean to cut anybody off, but for crying out loud people, this is a local matter!” (Quig, Block Club Chicago, 3/1/19)

35 st Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, 31 st Ward Alderman Milly Santiago, 45th Ward Alderman Ald. John Arena, and 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar voted against the tax break. The new 22 nd Ward Alderman Mike Rodriguez has not taken a public statement on the development plan, thought he did call for Muñoz to resign after he was charged.

At the September 13, 2018 Plan Commission meeting, opponents loudly protested the vote before being removed from the chamber by security guards. (Cherone, Block Club Chicago, 9/13/18)

The Crawford Station was designed by architects Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the successor firm to D. H. Burnham & Company. The firm’s commissions included many large-scale and important buildings like Chicago’s Union Station, Soldier Field, The Field Museum, the Merchandise Mart (once the world’s largest building), Shedd Aquarium and Chicago’s Main Post Office.

The Crawford Station innovative technology conquered the previously difficult task of employing steam engine turbine technology to create the world’s largest electrical generators. The massive electricity production allowed Chicago to grow and prosper at a magnitude not previously seen. The success of the Crawford Station was replicated around the world, but it all began in Chicago.

Engineering magazine in July 1925, noted that “Probably no power station ever built has commanded greater interest during the period of its construction than has Crawford Avenue Station in Chicago.” The magazine made numerous references to the world power conference in London, England and the interest in Chicago’s new power plant.

The Crawford Station is composed of red-brick, stonework masonry, Modern Gothic forms and Renaissance-Revival detailing to create an eclectic mix of historic styles, now termed “Industrial Gothic.” The main Turbine Hall is a stately, massive red-brick building, resembling the front façade of a church or religious structure with its large flanking towers dominating the front facade. A mammoth three-story, arched window opening is divided with slender brick piers.

Preservation Chicago is not opposed to a redevelopment plan for the site, but strongly encourages the 1926 portion of the 72-acre campus to be adaptively reused in any redevelopment plan. The historic structures incorporate some of the existing equipment to tell a story of Chicago’s place on the world stage in the history of electricity and the production process. A reuse for the remainder of the site should not negatively impact traffic and air quality concerns in the Little Village neighborhood.

This industrial reuse plan is tragically ironic, considering the extraordinary 12-year effort to close the Crawford Station to eliminate the toxic pollution it generated. This was led by a consortium of neighborhood activists and organization such as Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Delta Institute, Sierra Club Task Force, and community activists. The massive truck staging facility will generate high levels of exhaust and noise pollution.

Additional Reading
Massive Little Village Warehouse On Old Crawford Coal Plant Site Approved By City Council; The 1-million-square-foot project was approved despite vehement opposition from some Little Village residents and environmental groups., Mauricio Pena, Heather Cherone and A.D. Quig, Block Club Chicago, 3/13/19

After Post-Arrest Absence, Ald. Muñoz Returns To City Hall To Argue For Tax Break For Little Village Project; “I don’t mean to cut anybody off, but for crying out loud, people, this is a local matter,” Muñoz said after being questioned about the environmental impact and other factors for the distribution plant. A.D. Quig, Block Club Chicago, 3/1/19

Huge Distribution Hub Likely Replacing Crawford Coal Plant — Meaning More Dirty Air For Little Village, Critics Say; Little Village opponents loudly protested during a key vote on the $100 million project before being removed from the chamber by security guards, Heather Cherone and Mauricio Pena, Block Club Chicago, 9/13/18

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