Crawford coal plant to become a $100 million distribution center
March 1, 2019

Courtesy Chicago Department of Planning and Development
Some in Little Village and Pilsen are excited about the jobs a new distribution center will bring, while others are concerned about pollution.

By Madeline Makoul

After years of the building sitting unused, a developer is investing $100 million to rehabilitate the old Crawford Power Generating Station and turn it into a distribution center. Some community members oppose the change, however.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners purchased the old Crawford coal plant, near the Stevenson Expressway and Pulaski Road, in 2017 with plans for a massive one million square foot warehouse and distribution center, according to a Hilco statement.

This project, dubbed “Exchange 55,” will not only create 360 construction jobs and 178 permanent jobs but clean up the site that spread pollution to Little Village, Pilsen, and surrounding areas, said Jaime di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

The Crawford Generating Station “has been closed for many years,” di Paulo said. “It’s contaminated. The plant is bad news and an eyesore for our community. Hilco is bringing a top notch company there to create local jobs and local foot traffic for businesses.”

According to di Paulo, Hilco will clean the property prior to construction, demolishing the old structures and ridding the site of old pollutants. As of February, Hilco reported workers already have begun asbestos abatement and demolition, with 36% of the asbestos work completed. Additionally, the demolition of the site is approximately 17% complete as Hilco sets its sights on completing the project by early 2020.

Alderman Danny Solis (25th Ward), who supported closing the Crawford Coal Plant due to concerns over the community’s health, said transitioning this location brings an “opportunity to boost the local economy while also limiting emissions.” In particular, Solis noted the importance of the City’s taking such projects into consideration, as they not only boost the economy but clean up and redevelop facilities like the Crawford plant, morphing that property into a “modern logistics hub.”

Also, di Paulo noted the old Crawford site’s location in a heavily industrial area, with People’s Gas and ComEd across the street, allowing zoning for the new plant to work out perfectly. With the property sitting right off the expressway, di Paulo said it only makes sense that the plant will become a distribution center because, and as trucks come in and out of the area, they will boost the local economy.

“It’s very seldom that someone comes to a community wanting to invest a hundred million dollars,” di Paulo said. “We feel like it was the right type of business to go on that property, and it will create jobs and support local business.”

Di Paulo said the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, which testified about Hilco’s project in favor of the distribution center, plans to advocate for making the 178 permanent jobs local hires, further ensuring the community benefits.

Courtesy LVEJO
Community protests helped shut down the Crawford Generating Station, but some worry about plans for warehouse facilities at the site.

Community concerns

After nearly a century of pollution from the coal-powered Crawford Generating Station, community members expressed concern about additional pollution they must endure from a new distribution center.

Jose Requena, the Pilsen Alliance’s community organizer, said his organization partners with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), as both have concerns about pollutants that continue to come to the Southwest Side.

“The amount of trucks that have to go in and out” of the new warehouse facilities “will definitely impact the community,” Requena said. “It really affects the air quality, and the amount of trucks is unsafe for school children.”

Instead of a distribution center, Requena thinks other ideas would suit the property better and keep the community safe from further pollution.

One involves turning the Crawford Generating Station into a museum, as Requena called the station a “relic of a very unique time in how we generate electricity.” He added that LVEJO wants more urban agriculture space, and Requena said incorporating green energy can happen in many ways.

“The industrial centers in Chicago were meant to be incubators of industry and innovation, but more trucks and more highways isn’t very innovative,” he said. “I think there’s a way we can employ more than 200 people with an industry that is geared towards the future, like green energy and solar paneling and urban agriculture.”

Di Paulo said Hilco is addressing further pollution, for example by considering electric trucks. He noted simply cleaning up the site offers a huge improvement, as the Crawford Station had become a major polluter—something Hilco is spending significant sums of money to remediate.

Solis believes the project will have an “overall positive impact” on the community and said prioritizing community concerns as the project moves forward will remain key.

“Economic development is important.” Solis said. “However, concerns about pollution should be taken seriously. That’s why I look forward to listening to the interests of local leaders, environmentalists, and residents to develop a solution that will satisfy everyone.”

Pollution trends

The issue runs much deeper, Requena said, noting Chicago’s long history of racial politics and, in this case, “environmental racism.”

“It seems a little overt that, at this point in 2018, pollutants are pushed into communities of color and, at the same time, the rest of Chicago is trying to clean itself up,” he said.

As the city continues to gentrify, communities of color actually are seeing people leave the city, something Requena said is “very purposeful.” He added that, although Chicago is safe from many natural disasters that plague the rest of the country, from hurricanes to massive fires, the City is not addressing fully its impact on the environment.

“There seems to be a desire to make Chicago a playground for the rich—a Manhattan of sorts—a tech finance hub, and whatever polluting, working class jobs that people without means can retain are being put in the communities that are just holding on to stay in this urban space,” Requena said. “It seems like a gross irresponsibility of power that also signals there are no plans to address climate change whatsoever by any of the powerful people that control this city or this country.”

Solis added, “This redevelopment has a lot of potential, but there are also a lot of concerns from the community that need to be heard. I look forward to helping develop a balanced, common sense solution that will satisfy all interested parties.”

Hilco expects to complete the Exchange 55 project by early 2020. For more information, visit the Hilco site at www.crawfordstation.com.

Hilco provided written statements but declined to comment for this story. For more on the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, log on to littlevillagechamber.org. For LVEJO, log on to lvejo.org. For the Pilsen Alliance, log on to www.thepilsenalliance.org. To contact Solis, call (773) 523-4100.