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How one of Chicago’s largest developments is pressing ahead amid the coronavirus crisis

Work on the multiphase Southbridge megadevelopment is just getting started

Ickes Master Developer JV, LLC

There are massive changes happening across the city: McCormick Place is transforming into a makeshift hospital, the Lakefront Trail is closed and empty, and a packed L train isn’t a problem. Amid these changes, the city’s construction industry is still operating—and work is ramping up on the massive Southbridge project.

The planned groundbreaking ceremony for the Near South Side megadevelopment was canceled due to the novel coronavirus, but its developers are pressing ahead with their plans to bring a mix of 877 affordable, market-rate, and public housing units to the site of the former Harold L. Ickes Homes. Residential construction is permitted as an essential service under Gov. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, but crews are still taking protective measures as they adapt to the global health crisis.

“It’s really a challenging time for everyone, and the safety of our partners and communities is our top priority,” says Christopher Johnson, of Community Builders—which is co-developing the Southbridge project with McCaffery Interests, the Chicago Housing Authority, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and the city of Chicago. “Pretty quickly we realized what was going on and took immediate precautions.”

Johnson tells Curbed Chicago that his team is adhering to all OSHA and CDC guidelines and procedures, including practicing social distancing wherever possible and deploying additional hand sanitizer dispensers and handwashing stations. Equipment handles and control surfaces are constantly wiped down, and in-person meetings have migrated to virtual platforms.

“We’re in a pretty lucky scenario where our site is fairly large and the kind of foundation work we are doing tends to be spaced out. So we’re using machinery that has a single operator and a flagger,” Johnson adds. And, because the majority of the materials are locally sourced, supply chain disruptions have been minimal so far, he says.

The coronavirus has yet to impact the Southbridge project’s schedule, and the team hopes to complete the 206-unit phase one at the intersection of State and 23rd streets in summer 2021. Later phases will extend to the blocks north and south of phase one and include 13- and 22-story residential buildings near the Cermak Green Line station.

As the impact of the coronavirus crisis continues to grow, it’s been left up to individual states and cities to enact their own policies when it comes to the construction industry. New York, Boston, and Austin have limited certain types of construction in their respective cities while Los Angeles says it will implement a coronavirus inspection team to visit sites to ensure that safety protocols are followed.