Using the Dave Matthews Caravan to help sell former US Steel Works site

The Dave Matthews Band has a proven track record for selling albums and filling large stadiums but now they are being asked to do more: showcase the 600 acre former US Steel Works site in south Chicago.

Early next month, in the first real use of the enormous lakefront land parcel since the plant finally closed in 1992, tens of thousands more will walk through a different set of gates. Instead of lunchboxes, they’ll be clutching tickets to a three-day, multiband rock event, the second stop of the Dave Matthews Band Caravan. The worker who checks their ticket may well be a volunteer, paid not with wages but with a ticket to the show…

Having the show there, in open space roughly centered on 83rd Street, was a risky choice: Land needed clearing, logistics needed developing, transportation needed planning. But to Jerry Mickelson, the partner in Chicago-based music promoter Jam Productions who brought Matthews and the old mill grounds together, it was a risk worth taking…

Where there were once 160 buildings, the only structures left on the property — which covers the lakefront from 79th Street on the north to 87th Street on the south — are massive masonry retaining walls once used to hold raw materials and a former clock house now used by a development company to show off its plans to turn the area into a bustling urban jewel…

What McCaffery wants to do, detailed in drawings and videos in the company’s on-site showroom, is dramatic — creation rather than a mere makeover.

In his plan, malls will be built, lakefront parkland donated, the city’s largest marina constructed, entire neighborhoods erected on ground that used to produce the raw materials of construction. It’s a $4 billion, 30- or 40-year plan, carved up into separate phases.

It sounds like this concert idea is a stepping stone to a larger plan for this sizable parcel and the article suggests most people, including local politicians, are happy with these concert plans. It sounds like a reasonable idea: the site is being clean, the concertgoers will only be there for a few days, the influx of people will presumably provide some boost to nearby businesses, and all of this could show off the viability of the site for more permanent uses.

But I would have a few questions about the long-term proposal for the site:

1. How does this concert and the big plans for future uses fit with the existing area? I imagine traffic could be a concern to some people.

2. The large long-term plan is contingent on extending Lake Shore Drive – who will pay for that?

3. Is there a need in Chicago for such a large mixed-use site, particularly this far away from the city center? If it is built, will they come?

Regardless of what happens in the long-term, this is a unique music festival site in Chicago and we’ll see if the Dave Matthews Band can also help sell real estate development.