Developers have a massive underground warehouse dream for the Southeast Side.
Concrete and energy company Ozinga is pitching the Invert: an underground warehouse with parks, solar panels and more on the surface.
But in order to build, the company would need to mine — a practice currently banned in Chicago.
In late January, Ald. Peter Chico (10th Ward) introduced an ordinance that would amend a city zoning law that could allow for some approval of mining/excavation.
This came after a city zoning official determined that the Invert would require mining, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Based on the information provided, it is our opinion that the proposed use is mining,” city zoning administrator Patrick Murphey wrote. “Mining is not an allowed use in any zoning district.”
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), who is co-sponsoring the ordinance, said he’s backing it because it could allow for an opportunity to “reimagine how to repurpose land that’s not going to be utilized.” It’s currently a brownfield, meaning it was developed for industrial purposes, polluted, then abandoned.
Villegas pointed to Kansas City, which has a similar business complex known as Subtropolis.
But to Oscar Sanchez, co-executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Invert is another potential environmental and public health concern to the Southeast Side.
“It’s always our quality of life that’s questioned,” Sanchez said.
He’s concerned that the construction and industry will add to the community already deluged by industry. More recently, he pointed to the yearslong fight over a scrap metal shredder, General Iron. Federal officials slammed the city for violating the civil rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans by allowing the operation to move from the North Side to the Southeast Side in 2022.
The Invert entails an underground 6-million-square-foot, two-story commercial space on a site at 11118 S. Buffalo Ave. The vision includes farming, laboratory science and medical storage. On top, developers are planning for parks, sports fields and solar panels.
The Invert’s FAQ page on its website says the project’s “interest in building subsurface is to create a unique, environmentally sustainable, and highly energy efficient space” and that if developers “were simply interested in obtaining the below-grade materials, there are many significantly less costly, less complicated and less time-consuming ways to go about that process.”