Developers seeking approval from the city of Chicago often are required to demonstrate the sustainability of their proposed projects. This is especially true in neighborhoods like the 10th Ward on the city’s southeast side where steel mills left behind land too costly to remediate and redevelop. That all changed when The Invert Chicago unveiled its vision to establish Chicago’s first subsurface real estate complex there and revitalize the neighborhood.
Because seeing is believing, Golder’s digital visualization team was asked to help The Invert share their vision and gain community backing to support the project’s approval process. To help the client, Golder’s team:
- Rendered site visualizations to engage with the community and demonstrate the developer’s vision for this unique proposal
- Provided progressive ideas to enhance the project
- Created photo simulations to help residents and other stakeholders visualize what the property will look like and the transformation of the land years into the future.
Visualizing a Subsurface Real Estate Complex
Chicago’s southeast side was once a thriving neighborhood during the early to mid-20th century until steel operations and supporting infrastructure began closing in the 1970’s and 80’s, leaving behind a damaged environment and decimated local economy. Since then, the former Republic/LTV Steel site has remained mostly underutilized on approximately 140 acres along the Calumet River.
This subsurface business and innovation complex was born by looking at things differently – taking traditional thoughts of space and turning them upside down – putting buildings, warehouses, and roadways underground. As a result, new jobs can be created to strengthen the economy and give the land a second chance to restore its value to the people of the surrounding neighborhood, while creating sustainable space with minimal environmental impact.
The planned transformation will begin by removing limestone three hundred feet below the surface, the length of an American football playing field. Primarily in the Racine and Joliet Formations, this depth is far below any surface contamination, water (both nearby Calumet River and underground water table) and sits in structurally sound levels of limestone. This allows for environmental safeguards to protect water and air quality while developing six million square feet of opportunity for new businesses to flourish and grow. The finished space will feature two expansive levels, each with 3 million SF of leasable space, and with 45-foot ceiling clearances, making it on par with Class I commercial properties. The property has access to multiple transportation modes onsite: lake vessel to the Great Lakes market, river barge to the inland river system, Class I railways via the onsite Norfolk Southern River Line Railroad, and Interstate 90 & 94 just mere minutes away.
Understanding the Details
There are many intricate hurdles to overcome in a project of this scale. Foremost is getting approval and buy-in from stakeholders, neighbors, activist groups and elected officials, who have a complicated relationship and history with heavy industrial development. Their primary concerns are centered around real economic investment opportunities, local job creation, and sustainable/environmental care for the neighbors in the 10th Ward.
The Digital Visualization team at Golder was called in to render site visualizations to share with and engage the community and demonstrate developer’s vision for this massive undertaking. The Golder team addressed specific concerns relating to all development stages, from initial material extraction and construction to future environmental impact.
Because Golder’s Digital Visualization team has experience working with diverse clients, they bring a vast resource of intelligence, expertise, and innovation. They understand construction, design, and usability and speak the same highly technical language as their engineers, so there is no disconnect between the design and the visualization.
For The Invert’s development group, this meant that the team could bring progressive ideas to the table to enhance the project, such as adding wild grass plantings and a living roof in keeping with the local landscape, insight into the size and orientation of solar fields, or the layout of surface parking structures.
The team’s Digital Visualizations were created to tell the story of The Invert through images. In addition to being shared during community engagement meetings, they were printed on canvas and displayed at the Community Engagement Center in the East Side neighborhood, where local stakeholders can come to view and discuss the project. The visual gallery facilitates ongoing conversations regarding how to best revitalize the land and the community amongst residents, stakeholders and project managers.
During the engagement process, when questions arose about potential property risks from underground extraction near a river, the illustrative material detailed a precise cross-section of the water table that alleviated concerns. Golder also used photo simulations, a combination of real-life photographs with three-dimensional digital content, to help neighbors visualize what the property would look like and the permutation of the landscape years into the future.
With these visual stories, The Invert is gaining understanding and approval from stakeholders towards final entitlement with the City of Chicago. Innovative new uses, such as vertical farming, cold storage, cloud computing, light modern manufacturing, and climate-controlled archival storage will now be achievable in an area that would have previously been overlooked, because the vision is now understood and shared widely. With these digital stories in place, The Invert Chicago is “inverting” the city’s typical community engagement process by first meeting with neighbors before filing a formal application with City of Chicago officials.
This will ultimately mean economic opportunity, sustainable growth, stable jobs, healthier lifestyles, and an improved environmental landscape for the first time in decades for the Chicago’s Southeast side. Local residents can say “yes” to The Invert because of its positive ecological and social impact – and for the promise it brings the community and future generations.
Up to six million-square-feet of leasable space will be available in phases, with initial subsurface space estimated to be available after 2026. Based on market conditions, The Invert expects to complete development within 12-15 years after breaking ground. Golder will be with them every step of the way helping The Invert and Chicago’s Southeast Side community be future-ready.