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Future of Historic Marshall Field Apartments Not Entirely Clear

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After the recent blockbuster sale of the OneEleven apartment tower late last month, developer Related Midwest may be looking to make a mint by redeveloping a famous subsidized housing development in Old Town. Crain's reports that Related is close to closing a deal with Metroplex, a Chicago-based affordable-housing landlord, for a 4,000-unit portfolio that includes the six-acre, 628-unit Marshall Field Garden Apartment complex. What's particularly noteworthy about the deal is that restrictions on developing the apartments, attached to the 1992 sale from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, ends in 2017, opening up speculation that the site may become mixed-use housing. According to Related, this acquisition would fall under the Related Affordable wing of the company, responsible for the Parkway Gardens project.

As the story of the nearby Finkl Steel site also suggests, the rewards of developing some of the only available parcels on the Near North Side may be leading to some creative solutions by developers. Much like Related's vision for the Lathrop Homes, any plans to transform a historic housing development will meet with neighborhood pressure and a potential fight from preservationists.

The creation of the homes was part of a string of subsidized housing "experiments" in Chicago, notably the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, built by Sears owner Julius Rosenwald in 1929. The Marshall Field Garden Apartment Homes, built by Marshall Field III the same year to help catalyze neighborhood development, were part of a holistic neighborhood plan which included 20 stores and a parking garage. Early residents even had their own newspaper and theater groups. but the Depression knocked down rents, and over the decades, the experiement experienced many of the same issues as similar developments.

In a 1991 Tribune article about the sale of the homes, they were identified as a "chronic problem spot in an incresingly gentrified neighborhood," and a symbol of the tension between low-income residents and new arrivals. Ben Joravsky profiled the neighborhood's change over the decades for the Reader, and how the racial divide that once ran along North Avenue has slowly changed as more big-money development moved into the area.

·The View From the Porch [Chicago Reader]
·Subsidized Housing [Encyclopedia of Chicago]
·Big affordable-housing deal includes Old Town complex [Crain's]