Plan to Transform Former Jewel, Parking Lot on Far South Side Into Migrant Shelter Advances

The 67,000-square-foot vacant former grocery store and the surrounding 6.5 acres of land on the border between Morgan Park and West Roseland. (Credit: Google Street View)The 67,000-square-foot vacant former grocery store and the surrounding 6.5 acres of land on the border between Morgan Park and West Roseland. (Credit: Google Street View)

A key City Council panel advanced a plan Monday to purchase the now-vacant Jewel-Osco and surrounding parking lot near 115th and Halsted streets and transform it into a shelter for some of the 3,344 men, women and children being forced to sleep on the floors of police stations across the city and at O’Hare Airport.

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The endorsement of the City Council’s Housing and Real Estate Committee sends the proposal to spend $1 to purchase the 67,000-square-foot vacant former grocery store and the surrounding 6.5 acres of land on the border between Morgan Park and West Roseland once known as the Halsted Indoor Mall to the full City Council for a final vote Wednesday.

Ald. David Moore (17th Ward) cast the only dissenting vote after city staff could not tell him how much the city would have to pay to cover the land’s property taxes.

It remains unclear whether city officials plan to build a massive “winterized base camp” on what is now a vacant parking lot or whether they plan to transform the vacant grocery store into a shelter, or both. It is also unclear how many people could be housed on the site, or when the shelter could open.

The vote came without debate, a rare exception to the intense debate that has confronted Mayor Brandon Johnson and his administration as they scramble to care for the more than 19,400 people who have made their way to Chicago from the southern border after entering the country legally after requesting asylum.

Those efforts have exacerbated tension between Chicago’s Black and Latino communities, with many Black leaders feeling deep frustration that the city is spending millions of dollars to house mostly Latino immigrants in Black communities that have suffered from decades of disinvestment, grinding poverty and rampant crime and violence.

The committee’s vote came shortly after Ald. Ronnie Mosley (21st Ward) said in a statement he was “highly disappointed” with the plans to erect a temporary shelter at 115th and Halsted in his ward, which has seen a steep drop in the number of residents amid a continuing exodus of Black Chicagoans from the city.

Typically, the city’s decades-old tradition of aldermanic prerogative would give Mosley a veto over such a high-profile development, especially one that was roundly criticized by nearby residents at a community meeting back in September when the proposal was just a rumor.

But Johnson has made it clear that the humanitarian crisis confronting the city means that alderpeople will not be able to stop the opening of shelters.

“The 21st Ward will not tolerate the prioritization of a crisis over our needs and voices!” Mosely said in a statement that acknowledged the shelter would be built in his Far South Side ward — but made a series of demands of the Johnson administration, including their support for the Beverly Ridge housing development, improvements at Julian High School as well as “investments in the beautification of our ward.”

Mosley also demanded a full commitment from the city to break ground next year on a development dubbed Morgan Park Commons, an affordable housing, retail and entertainment and new park space on the site. The plan presented to the Housing Committee said the city plans to donate the land to the project’s developer, the Far South Community Development Corp.

“The administration says we can service Chicagoans and asylum-seekers in need,” Mosley wrote. “Consequently, I am calling for the 21st Ward to have a temporary shelter for Chicagoans so residents of this community can become more secure.”

President Abraham Lacy said in a statement to WTTW News that the corporation remains committed to breaking ground on Morgan Park Commons in 2024 with the recently reaffirmed support of state and city officials.

“We have already secured development financing for Phase I, including allocations from the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago, and we remain committed to bringing affordable housing, retail and entertainment, and new park space to the northwest corner of 115th and Halsted,” Lacy said in a statement.

The number of migrants sent to Chicago in the last 30 days has grown 30%, with the number of migrants at police stations and O’Hare growing by more than 50%, even as the mayor’s office opened several new shelters in recent weeks.

City officials have yet to make a final decision on whether to build a massive “winterized base camp” on a vacant lot near 38th Street and California Avenue in Brighton Park. That site could house as many as 2,000 families, officials said.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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