CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s been an eyesore for more than a decade, so why is a development proposal for an empty lot in Little Village igniting controversy?
It’s 11 acres of prime real estate home to exotic-looking birds and an expensive pile of debris, but community activists see something else amid the tangled heaps of shrubs and junk: an opportunity to build the neighborhood’s newest high school.
“It’d be a center for career technical education,” Little Village resident Raoul Contreras said.
For decades, a large swath of land at 31st and Kedzie was home to Washburne Trade School, but the high school was demolished 10 years ago.
Contreras envisions a new Washburne in its place. It would adhere to the old teaching model but in an updated version for today’s economy.
“If they came out with not only a high school degree but as union members prepared to be able to be paid high wages,” Contreras said.
However, St. Anthony Hospital CEO Guy Medaglia wants to build a new hospital so St. Anthony can move from its current location on West 19th Street.
The Catholic hospital has spent $20 million acquiring land for what it hopes will become a $600 million mixed-use development. The new hospital campus would include a multi-purpose sports field and a fieldhouse, restaurants and retail businesses, education and arts services, fitness centers and more.
“It’s really a multi-purpose site built for the community,” Medaglia said.
Cinespace Chicago Film Studios also has placed a multimillion-dollar bid on the property.
Lifelong Little Village resident Lucky Camargo said the city should reject both bids.
“We want this land to remain public. We don’t want this land to be sold to private interests,” she said.
She and others fear both St. Anthony and Cinespace would use the land to boost their bottom lines without benefitting the community.
“If this is sold to a private entity, it is going to lead to gentrification and drive working class Latinos out of this neighborhood,” Little Village resident Howard Ehrman said.
Jim Sifuentes, senior vice president of community development for the non-profit hospital, said that’s not true, and residents have come to trust a hospital that’s served the community for more than a century.
“Every step of the way, that’s how we’ve been successful as a hospital; to invite and include the community,” he said.
If you want to weigh in on what you believe should be done with the lot at 31st and Kedzie, Thursday night is your chance. Ald. Michael Rodriguez is hosting a community meeting at Madero Middle School, 3202 W. 28th St., to get input on the proposals from St. Anthony and Cinespace.