As Catalyst Consulting Group works to share its sweeping vision for the Calumet Country Club site redevelopment, they battle back against the negative narrative that precedes their involvement.
The group includes five professionals, people of color with ties to the Southland, who also refer to their business proposal as a legacy project. In a recent meeting, the group said it’s important for people to understand that a community-centric perspective drove their site design.
“It’s not just a development. It’s a collage of what we think the Southland is missing,” said lead developer Jerry Lewis.
“We tried to bring culture, community psychology and more into the planning process to create a development that’s inclusive of communities. Before we even said anything or put our plans out, we put in a tremendous amount of homework and study.”
Putting the past behind them
While the golf course property is still owned by Diversified Partners, whose own plans for development died under the weight of community protest, Catalyst members have alluded to an eventual change in ownership. They’ll also have to deal with a $660,000 Cook County tax bill.
Lewis said he can share more details about the property’s financial future once the Village of Hazel Crest agrees to annex it. Currently the site sits in the unincorporated limbo it entered when Homewood officials released it from the village’s borders.
Until annexation, the group forges ahead with its plans and works to separate itself from the previous controversy.
“We enjoy the struggle. All our lives we’ve had to struggle to present ourselves before people would listen to us,” said Lewis, a 35-year developer and Country Club Hills resident. “We understand the struggle and the fight. We just want to have a listener.”
Vince Bass, the group’s strategist and brand builder, said the group is hoping local residents take time to find out more about the project before making up their minds.
“We’re attempting to get facts out to the community at large, primarily to all of Hazel Crest which is who it affects immediately, but there is a residual effect that impacts the whole Southland,” Bass said.
“People can make their own choices and decisions based on facts and not previous history. We’re showing we have nothing to hide.”
Building a new plan
Every Thursday evening since January, the five partners have met in a drafty banquet room at Calumet Country Club to hammer out their final plans.
Lewis and Bass are joined by their other partners, commercial real estate broker and Homewood resident Valerie Thomas; “serial entrepreneur” Jeffery Coleman; and Curtis Thompson, a business owner and president of the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC), Chicago chapter.
Their proposal is to develop a 92-acre area of the property to include a 58-acre warehousing industrial park at the center, encircled by a perimeter of retail, recreational and other buildings, including:
- Sports complex with indoor court space and outdoor athletic field
- Indoor water park
- Hotel complex
- Condominium and mixed-use buildings
- Shopping complexes with gathering space
- Aquaponics manufacturing and retail space
- Green space and a dog park
- Walking paths
- NAMC job training center
“NAMC has a national partner for construction education research, and we’ll be bringing their curriculum to that training facility to get people prepared for careers in the construction trades,” Thompson said. “We’ll also focus on jobs in the clean energy space.”
Catalyst can create opportunities for minority contractors using grant funds offered through those pieces of legislation, Thompson said, benefits that can extend out minority workers.
“Projects like this can create entrepreneurs, and can create a whole new generation of wealth,” Thompson said. “With the wealth gap that we face, this can be a transformative project for the Southland community.”
That very ‘trucky’ subject
In people’s opposition to the previous plan from Diversified Partners, the biggest issue by far was an increase in local truck traffic, and the range of potential negative ramifications for nearby residents.
The Catalyst plan reduces the warehouse area by about half from Diversified’s plan, Bass said.
According to Lewis, “there is no increase in truck traffic” for residents to experience as a result of Catalyst’s development. Trucks will exit I-80/94 at Dixie Highway to access the warehouse site, and be routed out the same way, he said.
Street design will keep them from exiting the site onto 175th Street, Lewis said, which is not a truck route. The development will not create any new truck routes, he said.
“We’re disallowing trucks to go down 175th St., and you’re going to have stoplights and signalizing even greater than now, and it’s going to be wide,” Lewis said. “So you’re going to have an upgrade of the street, turn lanes, stop lights, more stop signs. It’s a controlled traffic area.”
Lewis said that tightening regulations over truck exhaust and a move toward no-emission vehicles will ensure that trucks at the site won’t affect local air quality. Even when pressed by a reporter about the timeline of widespread transition to eco-friendly truck fleets, Lewis said it shouldn’t be a concern.
Catalyst commissioned a traffic study of their development plan that was completed by the engineering firm Kimley-Horn. Lewis said it’s premature to publicly release the results of that study until it is reviewed by the Village of Hazel Crest in the annexation process.
Lewis said the Southland lacks warehouse capacity, which is a disadvantage in attracting retailers. It’s also necessary for diminishable products such as water and baby food, he said.
“When you say you don’t want truck traffic, what you’re saying is you want empty shelves,” Lewis said. “And if you want empty shelves, guess what retailers are going to be saying. They’re not going to come here.”
In the spirit of their development, Lewis said the group considers their own families. They want to work with local residents who have concerns, and help elevate their requests to the Illinois Department of Transportation and other government agencies.
“I want to walk the street with the lady who said she’s having trouble crossing the street picking up her grandson from school because of the traffic,” Lewis said.
“There are things we can work together on, because we’re going to be neighbors in the future. There are concerns that are big to you that we haven’t thought about, that we might be able to mitigate if we know them now.”
Waiting on annexation
Catalyst’s site plans were inspected and approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lewis said, which was necessary because of a waterway on the site. All approvals and paperwork have “been 100% completed,” Lewis said.
The group now waits to get Hazel Crest’s verdict on annexation. They are planning a series of informational meetings for the community.
The town center concept the group wants to create includes spaces where family and friends can spend time together in a comfortable area that feels safe, Lewis said. It’s not the same as other developments, deliberately.
“Things that we see as precious to us are being diminished by developers,” he said. “We fight for the community. We want to develop with a heart, with inclusion.”
When asked about the plan’s magnitude, Lewis talked about the difficulty experienced by Southland communities — specifically those in the south east suburbs — in attracting economic boons. It has conditioned residents here into expecting less, he said.
“We’ve been beat up for years in asking for things. Now when we have this great opportunity to offer, people don’t think they deserve it. ‘This is too much; this is overwhelming,’” Lewis said.
“Why can’t we deserve as much as everyone else? If the north side can build Lincoln Yards, a $9 million development, what makes us not deserving of the same thing? We deserve just as great a lifestyle as anyone else.”