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Invert Chicago Aims To Dig Deep, Creating Vast Underground Facility In The City

Real estate developer The Invert Chicago took another step last week toward creating a unique underground industrial development in Chicago.

The company, backed by Mokena, Illinois-based Ozinga Ventures, acquired about 140 acres at 11118 South Buffalo Ave. on Chicago’s Far Southeast Side, where it plans to establish a 6M SF subterranean facility for storage and other uses. Invert Chicago would carve out two levels of 3M SF each from limestone about 250 to 350 feet below the surface, according to company President Steve King.

The facility would be the first of its kind in Chicago. Kansas City already has SubTropolis, a much larger underground business park dug into limestone that provides consistent temperature and humidity year-round.  

Invert Chicago

Invert Chicago first unveiled the proposal in January. The site currently operates as a marine, rail and truck terminal, and officials from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development would have to approve the new plans, as would 10th Ward Alderperson Susan Sadlowski-Garza, who represents the neighborhood, and other city council members.

“The site is a substantial asset as it currently operates, although we feel our innovative proposal to develop a subsurface business campus offers a more sustainable use and provides the type of jobs more suitable for a new economy,” King said in a statement.  

A formal planned development review process, overseen by city planners, should launch next year, he added.

New development in the area has come under strict scrutiny by many local residents. They say there are already too many polluting industries in the mostly Latino neighborhood, which, according to public health researchers, already has low air quality. City officials will hold a virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss Reserve Management Group’s proposal to move the operations of the now-shuttered General Iron metal shredder from the affluent North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park to a site at 11600 South Burley Ave., a proposal that has aroused anger among community groups and environmental advocates.

11118 South Buffalo Ave. on Chicago’s Far Southeast Side

But King and other company officials say underground caverns like SubTropolis or Invert Chicago are environmentally sustainable. In addition, subsurface construction uses far fewer construction materials than above-ground work, and materials brought in or excavated can move by barge, lake vessel or rail, avoiding polluting truck traffic.

“After participating in over 1,500 community engagements over the past year, the frequent theme we hear is the need for the type of clean, modern, well-paying jobs suitable for the new economy and that is precisely what we are proposing here,” King said.  

“Our goal is to achieve a net zero effect when it comes to construction materials and lower energy usage and emissions over the life of the project,” Invert Chicago Vice President of Design Isaac Yun said in a statement. “We think it’s an approach that will be modeled more frequently in the future.”