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Is the Massive Lake Meadows Redevelopment Back On?

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Back in 2008, when Lost was still on TV and Chicago was in the final throes of the previous building boom, local developers Draper & Kramer came up with a plan to raze the 70 acre Lake Meadows apartment development on the South Side and completely redevelop it as a new planned residential community by building almost 20 new towers totaling 7,845 residential units and over 500,000 square feet of retail over a 30-year period. It was an epic idea, reminiscent of such planned communities as the so-far successful Lakeshore East and the not-so-successful South Works plan. The city approved the Lake Meadows redevelopment plan, but as the economy took a spin the project flatlined. But now, rumors are swirling that Lake Meadows might be back on the table.

Last week, a request for bids was submitted for a project that meets the description of the old Lake Meadows redevelopment plan to a T, from the 7,845 residential units to the 500,000 square feet of retail. Keep in mind, a developer requesting bids from contractors doesn't necessarily mean the project is moving forward; it could simply mean that someone was morbidly curious about what such a thing would cost. On the other hand, a bid request was our first tip-off that Lakeshore East's long-rumored Site O project was finally happening which turned out to be true.

With a flurry of new development on the South Side, and specifically the McCormick Place and Motor Row areas being on the verge of a renaissance, it's easy to see how the Lake Meadows plan might seem more appealing today than it did previously. The neighborhood between 31st Street and 35th Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is close enough to the revitalizing McCormick area to benefit and contribute to it, yet far enough from downtown to enjoy the lower costs and slower pace that distance brings. If successful, a redeveloped Lake Meadows could be a catalyst for further development on the south end of town, an area chronically overlooked by new development and beleaguered by a reputation for crime and blight.

But who could be behind this (hypothetical) new push to bring the redevelopment plan back from the dead? Draper & Kramer hasn't been very active in the public eye in the last few years. Their 2004 website hasn't seen an update since 2008, and the only newspaper mentions of the firm since then have been in passing except for them planning to build a $10 million health club on the south end of the Lake Meadows property, whereas the redevelopment plan they lauded in 2008 would likely cost hundreds of millions, and require some serious real estate development might to pull off.

There have also been rumors that Lend Lease, the international development and construction firm wants to come to Chicago in a big way. They're already involved in two construction projects in the city, but they've clearly stated their intention to start developing projects in town, and they've been staffing up their Chicago office, sending industry insiders into an anxious panic trying to guess what their big move will be. Could it be that Lend Lease has been quietly putting its weight behind the Lake Meadows redevelopment plan, and will use it as its grand entrance to the Chicago development scene? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Chicago is famously brusque with outside developers trying to stake their claims on our shores, but with their recent contracting work in town perhaps they've learned the system enough to know whose hands to shake and whose rings to kiss in order to get things done around here.