Fisk site future sharpens, new park space ideas proposed

June 7, 2013

Potential buyers for Midwest Generation’s defunct coal plant sites on the city’s southwest side could come before a Mayor-appointed task force soon.

At a meeting in Pilsen Wednesday, Jerry Mead-Lucero, who heads the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), said the group’s original plans for a park (pictured below) that would span South Throop and Halsted Streets with a riverwalk were beginning to seem unlikely.

The former parking lot, outlined in blue above, will be retained by the future owner. The new owner’s identity is still up for grabs, but Mead-Lucero said to his knowledge it’s down from dozens of interested buyers to just two developers.

Instead Midwest Generation offered a parcel behind Chitown Futbol on South Throop Street, which could foster a smaller riverwalk west of the Fisk site. ComEd would maintain high-tension power lines overhead, however, which could mar the image of a hard-won riverfront park.

The Fisk site’s future is a hot topic in Pilsen, where activists struggled for years to close the polluting power plant. As Mead-Lucero noted, its smokestacks still visually identify the neighborhood from miles around.

“We’re kind of at a crossroads,” Mead-Lucero said. “Do we keep trying to fight for the vision that we had, which is probably a lost cause at this point … or do we try to improve upon it?”

The alternative park location could actually be bigger than PERRO's original ask, Mead-Lucero said, but that depends on how much land ComEd and Midwest Generation agree to give up.

Located in a park-poor industrial corridor, the Latino neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village have pushed for both new jobs and public green space. Last year the Mayor’s task force investigated potential reuse options for the 132 acres that make up both sites. The task force issued recommendations last fall, calling for light industrial uses, retail development and public park space.

PERRO had hoped to tie in with an existing but little known riverwalk behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield building on W. Cermak Road. Patricia SaldaƱa Natke, principal  of architecture and planning firm UrbanWorks, who completed a master plan for the neighborhood, called that riverwalk segment “a hidden jewel.”

In March EPA officials said tests for air quality and radiation around the Fisk and Crawford sites showed no lingering pollution in the immediate area.

But soil tests revealed lead contamination at troubling levels. The most affected areas were near copper smelter H. Kramer and Co., which was the subject of lead-emissions complaints in 2011, and the old Lowenthal lead smelter site, where EPA tests in December found lead contamination 65 times the legal limit.

PERRO said EPA representatives could begin soil removal at the former Lowenthal site by June 24.

Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at @Cementley.

Read PERRO's remediation and redevelopment plan for the Fisk site here. Watch a presentation on UrbanWorks’ Pilsen master plan here, courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation: