The US Steel South Works economic story by Jacob Kaplan illustrates economic decay even when surrounded by great infrastructure like rail and roads and waterways.
A long Lake Michigan on the Southeast Side of Chicago lies a huge empty tract of land. Probably the largest vacant parcel of land in the city,.
It was formerly home to the U. S. Steel South Works. Almost 20,000 people were once employed where empty fields of concrete and rubble now sit. First opened in 1882 as the North Chicago Railway Mill Company, the placement of the steel mill at the mouth of the Calumet River at Lake Michigan made for easy transport of goods and raw materials.
The South Works began a long period of downsizing beginning in the 1970s. Finally, on April 10, 1992, the doors closed for good. The mill that once produced steel beams for most of Chicago’s skyscrapers and jobs for thousands of area residents was now gone, and with it went the prosperity of South Chicago. Like in Gary, the neighborhood became more and more economically depressed.
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Ten years after the Navy Yard’s first new offices opened, plans to transform the site from a symbol of the city’s lapsed industrial might into a vibrant new neighborhood are hitting their stride.
The roughly 12,000 workers at the yard now outnumber the 10,000 or so ship workers and others employed there when it closed as a military base in 1996. The yard is estimated to have generated $77 million in local and state taxes in 2012, when its managers conducted their last economic study.
Liberty Property Trust, the yard’s main developer, recently broke ground on its 14th new office building at the site, designed by the architect behind Two World Trade Center, and expects to start two or three more offices this year.