Southeast Side residents skeptical of Ozinga venture’s underground warehouse

Ozinga family would need to excavate former Republic Steel site

Steve King with the Invert and a rendering of the underground warehouse (LinkedIn, The Invert Chicago, Getty)
Steve King with the Invert and a rendering of the underground warehouse (LinkedIn, The Invert Chicago, Getty)

Southeast Side community members are mulling, and providing some pushback against, a plan for a massive underground warehouse.

The Ozinga family, which is known for its namesake cement business, has been trying to convince residents and officials to approve plans for a 6 million-square-foot underground warehouse project called the Invert, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Most of the residents’ concerns stem from the fact that the project would require a yearslong excavation of limestone at the former Republic Steel site on South Burley Avenue, east of the Calumet River. Skeptics say the plan is a smokescreen to get around Chicago’s mining ban to provide more material for the cement business.

Steve King, a chief executive with the Invert project who would lead its development and an Ozinga Ventures employee, according to a LinkedIn profile, has had conversations about those concerns with City Hall officials. The company has assured them limestone won’t be processed inside Chicago’s city limits, and rather be hauled away by another company, possibly by barge.

King said engineering studies for the project, which is being planned by an Ozinga venture that includes other investors, found that excavation several hundred feet underground can be performed safely.

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A group of residents holding signs that read “Ozinga No mining in our backyard” and “No more sacrifice zones” protested the development at a community engagement meeting this week, the paper reported. More than 30 people attended the meeting and heard Invert’s plan.

King said there won’t be any negative environmental impact on the community and that noise from the underground blasts won’t be heard. The developer is required to complete an air quality study under an ordinance that Mayor Lori Lightfoot passed last year as part of the project.

Invert initially wanted to begin construction this year, but the company is far from applying for permits and therefore is open to suggestions and critiques, King said.

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— Victoria Pruitt