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Developer bails on plan to bring 20,000 homes to U.S. Steel’s South Works site

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The latest plan to turn the former industrial parcel into a residential neighborhood will not move forward

A conceptual rendering released in early 2017.
Barcelona Housing Systems

An ambitious scheme to build 20,000 new homes on Chicago’s massive South Works site will not be happening after all.

Irish developer Emerald Living announced Thursday the termination of its agreement to buy the 440-acre former industrial parcel from U.S. Steel, as reported by both Crain’s and the Chicago Tribune. The development comes roughly one month after reports that soil contamination threatened to hold up the Far South Side megaproject.

Emerald Living parent company WELink along with Spanish-based modular home builder Barcelona Housing Systems first revealed a grand vision to bring 12,000 homes to the vacant site in early 2017. The “New SouthWorks” plan soon grew to include an incredible 20,000 new residences.

The development team ran into trouble during the due diligence period after signing a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) with U.S. Steel last summer. Despite the aforementioned environmental concerns and the fact that Barcelona Housing Systems had stepped away from the project, Emerald Living publicly reaffirmed its commitment to the plan as recently as April.

Although the company’s Thursday statement from did not reference a soil contamination issue specifically by name, it did allude to challenges posed by parcel’s “industrial heritage” as a factor in the deal ultimately not going through.

A conceptual site plan from 2017.
Barcelona Housing Systems

The departure of Emerald Living represents the second time a grandiose redevelopment plan for the lakefront parcel was abandoned without delivering a single building. In 2016, developer McCaffery Interests dissolved its 12-year partnership with U.S. Steel to build a $4 billion multi-phase, mixed-use neighborhood.

U.S. Steel confirmed that it will be putting the sprawling lakefront site at the mouth of the Calumet River back on the market. It’s unclear if additional environmental remediation will required. The property owner completed an initial EPA-supervised cleanup after South Works plant closed in 1992.