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CHICAGO-”Renaissance” is not a word often used in connection with Chicago’s gritty Southeast Side. However, that’s what 10th Ward Alderman John Pope sees coming in his neighborhood in a plan to develop 140 acres at 126th Place and Torrence Avenue with 1.6 million sf of industrial buildings occupied by suppliers for a nearby Ford Motor Co. plant.

Plan commissioners have recommended approval of the $88-million manufacturing planned development by Oak Brook, IL-based REIT CenterPoint Properties Trust and Ford Land Development Services. They are expected to be back with a site plan in December for their project that is being aided by $16.1 million in tax increment financing along with state incentives.

“We see this as a tremendous environmental story,” says Ken Macfarlane, project manager for the Dearborn, MI-based co-developer of the former brownfield site. “This is taking a site that was abandoned 40 years ago and restoring it.”

City, state and CenterPoint funds are paying for $20-million in improvements to 126th Place as well as a railroad crossing at 130th and Torrence avenue. Landscaping will restore much of the land to prairie conditions, a far cry from the piles of slag, gravel and debris that has littered the area for decades, long after previous industrial users, including Republic Steel, moved out.

Meanwhile, Ford is spending $200 million to upgrade two plants on the Southeast Side over the next three years, Macfarlane says, rather than ship jobs out of the country. “We have the best people in the world working for us, and we have an outstanding relationship with the city and state,” he adds.

However, Ford was considering moving operations to the Atlanta area, city officials say, before the administration came up with a package aimed at retaining the skilled labor positions that pay about $52,000 a year. Ford ultimately decided to bring suppliers close to its plants so parts and assemblies could be delivered quickly on a just-in-time basis, and estimates the proximity saves about 2 million gallons of diesel fuel a year, Macfarlane says. The suppliers are expected to hire 750 employees, adding to Ford’s work force of 4,500.

CenterPoint considered two other sites, 60 acres to the south and 250 acres to the north, before settling on 2934 E. 126th St. “We felt we could restore this to a productive use economically and environmentally,” says CenterPoint development manager Ed Harrington.

Leases with specific suppliers are expected to be announced by CenterPoint within 60 days, plan commissioners were told.

“This has been a very holistic project,” Pope says. “It has been a very long process. There’s been a lot of work on it. Ford has been here 77 years. We want to keep them here another 177 years. This really does mark the beginning of a resurgence of the Southeast Side.”

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