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City plans new park in Little Village at former asphalt factory site

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Saturday received a plan to build a park at the former Fisk and Crawford coal plants, which were shut down earlier this year by Midwest Generation, after more than a decade of protests from community groups and residents in the Little Village and Pilsen communities.

The mayor announced he received the plan by the task force assembled earlier this year at the same time he also announced that the Chicago Park District and the city will invest $8 million to develop a new park on the site of a 24-acre former Celotex asphalt factory in the Little Village neighborhood.

Once used for making, storing and selling asphalt roofing products, the Celotex land at 31st and Albany will now be renovated to contain at least two soccer fields with field lighting, a soft-surface playground, baseball fields, basketball courts, a skate park, and walking and jogging trails, a release from the mayor’s office said. Construction will begin March 2013 and completion is targeted for Spring 2014. The site had been vacant for close to 20 years, the mayor’s office said.

“During the campaign and after becoming mayor, I promised to work to ensure these plants were either cleaned up or shut down,” Emanuel said. “After succeeding in that goal, the next step was critical – to return these areas to active, productive use for the residents of the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. This report is an important step toward creating jobs and a healthy environment for these communities. The development of a park at the site of the former Celotex factory will be another important step forward. I will continue to work to improve these communities and help the residents of Little Village and Pilsen enjoy the quality of life they deserve.”

After five months of site visits, community engagement, and best practice analysis, the mayor’s Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force has also drafted recommendations and next steps to guide the redevelopment of the land where the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations previously operated.

In February, Emanuel appointed the Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force to solicit community input and consider economic development and job creation alternatives for the land. The Task Force is comprised of three community members, one representative of Midwest Generation, two aldermen, one representative from labor, one representative from ComEd, and one economic development representative from City Hall. The Delta Institute, a local non-profit with experience leading brownfield redevelopment visioning efforts, has served as an independent facilitator of the group and was responsible for the final report. In addition, the Joyce Foundation and Sierra Club each committed up to $50,000 to fund the process.

The task force came back with 13 near-term recommendations, including decommissioning the plants, preparing the sites in a practical manner, exploring opportunities for public space, facilitating marketing, and improving public sector infrastructure. The task force has also laid out a plan to ensure that community engagement continues so the resulting use of the space fits with the needs of the neighborhoods, according to the mayor’s office.

“I’m excited to be able to present this report to Mayor Emanuel and to continue the great work of the task force,” Ald. Daniel Solis said. “I’m proud that we have removed these power plants from our community and are replacing them with new opportunities for our residents to enjoy a high quality of life and find good-paying, consistent jobs.”

Beginning immediately, Midwest Generation has agreed to establish specifications for the demolition of the sites, and to seek quotes during the fall of 2012 so the process may begin. The sites will be properly and legally remediated. Delta Institute has agreed to work to identify known industrial developers to facilitate this process.

Following the release of initial recommendations, the Task Force will convene for a second phase to continue providing input and to serve as a communication channel during the redevelopment process, meeting with firms representing Midwest Generation and potential buyers to ensure that they are aware of and consider the input provided by the recommendations established through the Task Force.

The Fisk Station at 1111 W. Cermak Road and Crawford Station at 3601 S. Pulaski Road ceased operations at the end of August.

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