PMG finally buys eight acre Pilsen site, but future plans not final
June 4, 2017

The development would feature residential units, and local residents are hoping for a development without a high degree of density. (Renderings by Property Markets Group_

By Patrick Butler

Can’t we all just get along? That’s what Pilsen Alliance director Byron Sigcho said he would like to see from everyone involved in the future of a 7.86-acre site bordered by 16th Street, 18th Street, Newberry Avenue, and Peoria Street. On one hand, there is Noah Gottlieb, head of Property Markets Group (PMG) who vows to convert the property into a “vibrant, mixed-use residential and commercial district” he plans to make “an example of private interests coexisting with social responsibility.”

On the other is a band of community groups including Sigcho’s Pilsen Alliance, the Pilsen Land Use Committee, and the Resurrection
Project—all trying to keep the community as affordable as possible in the face of rampant gentrification.

Somewhere in the mix is 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, head of the City Council Zoning Committee, whose spokesperson Erika Harris said Solis is not going to let anything onto the onetime Jesuit-owned site “that doesn’t have the support of the people of Pilsen.”

The property had been owned by the Midwest Jesuit order of Roman Catholic priests. According to Jesuit spokesman Jeremy Langford, “Property Markets Group had signed a contract to buy the property for $6.5 million in 2009 and closed on the deal in January of this year.”

Zoning change

Last year, Solis changed the site’s zoning from residential to industrial to block a previously planned residential development the community opposed and vows not to change it back again unless PMG provides enough affordable housing.

“Ald. Solis wants to make sure that space is both exceptional and accessible to the whole community, rather than allowing a developer to build” market rate housing and then “make money and leave,” Harris said.

“The Pilsen Land Use Committee rejected that project, and the alderman will continue to support the needs and wishes of the community,” she added.

Solis has said any proposal from PMG must include affordable housing.

About a dozen years ago, at the behest of the Pilsen Land Use Com-mittee, Solis mandated a 21% minimum for affordable housing units in buildings with at least ten apartments where developers are seeking zoning changes, City land, or public subsidies.

Harris and Sigcho confirmed that the 21% mandate—twice the affordable housing requirement anywhere else in the city—applies only to Pilsen.

After Solis voiced concerns about a 500-unit apartment building at that location—PMG’s original plan—the developer lowered the density to 100 apartments.

Meetings concerning site’s future

Harris said Solis is willing to meet with community groups to discuss PMG’s development of the site, which has been a hot-button item since 2015 when the Pilsen Alliance and other groups began protesting the Jesuits’ sale of their property to Gottlieb, calling it “gentrification on steroids” at the time. The Pilsen Alliance already has held two meetings on the site’s future, Sigcho said.

After the sale of Pilsen’s largest empty lot to PMG, some local activists began calling Gottlieb “Donald Trump Jr.” Gottlieb was offended at the comparison.

“I find our current president and his politics absolutely disgusting,” Gottlieb said in his reply to a letter written by Raul Reymundo, head of the Pilsen Land Use Committee and executive director of the Resurrection Project, and signed by representatives of 11 local organizations. “This shouldn’t be about me. This should be about what we can accomplish together.”

Among the signatories on that letter were the Pilsen Alliance, Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, Chicago Commons, and the 18th Street Development Corporation as well as the Resurrection Project, founded by six local churches in 1990 to address encroaching blight in the Pilsen community. The Resurrection Project community revitalization program has developed affordable apartments in the Back of the Yards and Little Village neighborhoods as well as Pilsen.

“We welcome development, but not at the expense of the displacement of residents,” the letter noted. “Our contributions as Mexican/Latino immigrants who followed the legacy of other immigrants who founded this community must be respected.”

The Resurrection Project reportedly had been looking at the site for an affordable housing development.

‘Keep open mind’

Gottlieb urged everyone to “keep an open mind” until the plans are final. PMG’s current plans name the area ParkWorks and call for a mixeduse initiative featuring both residences, including affordable housing units, and commercial/retail development “guided by social responsibility,” according to PMG. As part of that social responsibility, PMG is planning for an art walk, public courtyards, rooftop gardens, and solar panels, and aims to have two-thirds of the property’s employees and one-third of retail workers be Pilsen residents.

Sigcho said that Pilsen Alliance has given its own proposal to PMG, and that while the developer “hasn’t responded to our offer, they’ve been talking about devising the most affordable housing in the historyof Chicago and even having rent controlled buildings. They also said they want to promote more diversity in their buildings.”

However, Sigcho said, “so far they haven’t even come up with a meeting date or met with us face-to-face.” At this point, he added, PMG “should be interested in discussing the project with the community if they want any chance of getting the zoning changes they will need. This is going to be a very contested issue. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”

Sigcho and Pilsen Alliance also have been unable to obtain a face-to-face meeting with the developers of a nearby building at 917 W.18th St., Villa Capital Properties, which is planning loft office and retail development there.

Sigcho concluded, “Now that the weather is getting nicer, it might be time for a march outside both buildings. People’s patience is getting a little thin.”

For more about the ParkWorksplan, see