The long-vacant U.S. Steel South Works property on Lake Michigan in Chicago is being sold to a new developer who wants to build up to 20,000 houses on the site.

Emerald Living plans to build futuristic modular homes designed by Barcelona Housing Systems in a project dubbed “New SouthWorks” on the far South Side. The development also would include stores and offices with views of the Chicago skyline and lake.

“We are excited by the tremendous opportunity available at the South Works site and look forward to working throughout this due diligence period to determine the best path forward,” said Barry O’Neill, chief executive officer of Emerald Living. “Over the coming months, we will be working with the city, Aldermen Sadlowski, Garza and Mitchell, local community members, and other stakeholders to develop a new, exciting vision for this site and the surrounding South Chicago neighborhoods.”

Emerald Living put in the highest bid, and entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement with U.S. Steel to buy the 440-acre site where the country's largest steel mill once operated.

“This agreement is a major milestone towards converting an unused stretch of land that represents Chicago’s industrial past into a vibrant community that will contribute to Chicago’s economic, cultural and recreational future,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “I look forward to seeing the community’s dynamic vision for this site become a reality.”

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Emerald Living has five months to close on the deal after an environmental review. The huge swathe of lakefront land, which some have claimed is the largest undeveloped lakefront property in a major city in the United States, has sat vacant since the South Works mill closed in 1992. 

The development McCaffrey Interests worked for more than a decade on a sweeping redevelopment plan that resulted in nothing more than a "coming soon" sign for a Mariano's grocery store, but abandoned it last year.

The property at the mouth of the Calumet River is still home to the ruins of the massive break wall where steelworkers used to unload iron ore from boats. Steelworkers Park was recently added along the lakefront as a tribute to the industrial legacy.

“The hard working men and women who were once employed on this property helped produce the steel you see everyday in the City of Chicago,” 10th Ward Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza said. “This is an opportunity to restore that sense of pride and show off the beautiful lakefront on the southeast side to the rest of the city and the world.”


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.