Marketing signage for Chicago Lakeside, the redevelopment plan for U.S. Steel's South Works, hangs on a fence in South Chicago in 2011. [Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers/Creative Commons 2.0]

The Coalition for a Lakeside CBA released a draft community benefits agreement last week to address concerns over the massive development project on Chicago’s southeast lakefront.

Now the question is whether the developer will negotiate directly with the coalition — and whether local aldermen will back up the community effort.

The Chicago Lakeside Development, planned for the next three decades, is slated to bring 13,750 units of housing and 20 million square feet of retail to the former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works, stretching from 79th to 91st Streets. It’s a huge project, covering 600 acres — twice the size of the Loop.

The $4 billion project is projected to use more than a half-billion dollars of TIF financing along with many millions in additional public funding. Nearly $100 million in TIF funds have been allocated for the first phase of the project – retail development on the northwest section of the site – with another $20 million in existing TIF allocations potentially available.

And after years of preliminaries, the project is getting under way: Last October a two-mile extension of Lake Shore Drive, built with $65 million in state and city funds, opened access to the site, and this month Mariano’s announced it will build a new grocery store there. Developer Dan McCaffery has offered to donate land on the site for the Obama Presidential Library.

“This will have a dramatic impact on our communities, and it can either revitalize them if it’s done well, or it can push everyone out,” said Amalia NietoGomez, executive director of the Alliance of the Southeast, which has spearheaded coalition efforts.

The draft CBA, reviewed at a community meeting on July 15, has specific goals and reporting requirements for local hiring and job training, for housing affordability standards set for the community’s median income, and for environmental protections and support for schools. It pledges a combined effort to seek property tax relief for longtime residents.

The next step is to meet with McCaffery Interests and negotiate a final agreement, NietoGomez said. She said the coalition has requested a meeting but hasn’t had a response yet.

Asked about a CBA at an earlier community meeting, McCaffery was both reassuring and equivocal.

“We’re not afraid of community benefits groups, and we encourage a community benefits agreement,” he said at a May 13 meeting held by Ald. Natasha Holmes (7th Ward) and John Pope (10th). “But we’re going to do it a little more deliberately. … Right now I don’t know who the right people are or the right time or the right place. ”

Now is the right time, said NietoGomez, with Mariano’s on the way. “The CBA should be up and running before the first shovel is put in the ground. ”

Holmes and Pope, however, are touting an advisory committee that McCaffery will be establishing. The aldermen assured community members that if they aren’t invited to join the advisory committee, there will be lots of subcommittees and working groups where they can give input.

We’ve seen this movie before.

When a coalition of community and labor groups demanded a CBA from Chicago 2016, the private group planning the city’s Olympics bid, the group responded by setting up its own advisory committee. That committee then “negotiated” a memorandum of understanding with Chicago 2016, which had appointed its members.

Chicago 2016 insisted the memorandum was legally binding; outside contract experts disagreed. Indeed, every commitment in the document included the stipulation, “where feasible and within the scope of Chicago 2016’s mission and purpose. ”

That wasn’t a real CBA, which the Community Benefits Law Center defines as a legal contract between community-based organizations and developers.

Coalition member Yvette Moyo of the Black United Fund of Illinois pointed to the paucity of job training funding in Lakeside’s TIF budget. It’s just 1 percent of the total, and in dollar terms it’s less than what’s budgeted in much smaller TIF districts in the area.

“You see we have a fight, because you see in this Lakeside budget that the money is very small for job training,” she told the audience at last week’s meeting. “That has got to change. And the only way it’s going to change is if we get together and say, this is the way it’s going to be or it’s not going to be happening at all. ”

If McCaffery is serious about a CBA, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The Coalition for a Lakeside CBA includes 24 civic groups, homeowners’ associations and block clubs, with a dozen more groups lending support. They’ve held small group meetings to gather community input for a year, they’ve surveyed the community, and they held a CBA summit in October.

The coalition includes groups like BUFI, with experience in providing job training and placing trainees in building trades unions, and Claretian Associates, which builds affordable housing in South Chicago and knows the community’s housing needs intimately.

Their draft CBA calls for local hiring, for housing affordable to local residents, for outreach to schools to prepare young people for jobs. “These are reasonable demands,” said Moyo. “This is not something you have to take two or three years to figure out. Let’s start working on this now. ”

The coalition is not going to give up its campaign for a real CBA. And they have the right to expect their elected representatives to back them up.

Curtis is an opinion writer for The Chicago Reporter.