South Works is an area in the South Chicago part of Chicago, Illinois, near the mouth of the Calumet River, that was previously home to a now-closed and vacant US Steel manufacturing plant. The area is called "South Works" because that was the name of the now-shuttered steel plant. The use of the word "works," following a common name of the area in which the plant was located, was how US Steel named its plants back then. For example, nearby Gary, Indiana's big US Steel plant is known as "Gary Works."
The facility that eventually became South Works began in 1857 under the name of the North Chicago Rolling Mill, which was located in the northern part of the city of Chicago. The plant later moved to South Chicago because raw materials could be shipped in via Lake Michigan, as well as an existing labor pool and available fresh water from the lake and the Calumet River. In 1889, the facility merged with three other steel mills to form a new company called Illinois Steel, which later became part of Federal Steel. By 1901, the company was under the control of US Steel.
At its peak, the steel mill employed some 20,000 people, which spurred the development of a new community centered around the mill. The mill complex covered a total of 600 acres (240 ha), part of which had been reclaimed from Lake Michigan with molten slag.
Beginning in the 1970s, the facility began downsizing due to a shifting market for steel, and by the end of the decade the number of workers at the plant had declined to 10,000. The mill continued its decline, and on 9 January 1992, it was announced that the facility was to close. On 10 April, the plant permanently shut down with fewer than 700 people employed at the time of its closing.
Since the steel mill shut down, the area has stood mostly vacant, with only a single brick building and the remains of a ship dock standing. The Solo Cup Company purchased 120 acres (49 ha) of the site, with the intent of constructing a factory, but later dropped the plans. In 2004, a new park was constructed on the lakefront, with topsoil composed of dried mud obtained from Peoria Lake.
From July 8–10, 2011, the Dave Matthews Band hosted the Dave Matthews Band Caravan at part of the site, 150 acres (61 ha) of which had been cleared of vegetation and scrap materials, resurfaced with wood chips and renamed Lakeside for the event. The three-day festival hosted numerous artists and bands, and was attended by about 100,000 people.
The city of Chicago has plans to construct an entirely new housing and commercial complex on roughly 470 acres (190 ha) of the site. Dating back to the early 2000s, the plan envisions housing for around 50,000 people, around 17,500,000 square feet (1,630,000 m2) of space for commercial purposes, 125 acres (51 ha) of parkland and a marina. In spring 2010, the city approved the plan and in September 2010 committed $98 million in financing for it. The entire plan is planned to cost around $4 billion and will be completed in phases, the first of which is to reroute U.S. Route 41 through the site and construct 800,000 square feet (74,000 m2) of retail space and a thousand housing units. The project is planned to begin in 2012 and be completed over the course of around 30 years.
- "South Chicago Industry". Northeastern Illinois University. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
- "South Works". Forgotten Chicago. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
- "Chicago to Redevelop U.S. Steel Site on Lakefront". The New York Times. 28 December 2010. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
- "Dave Matthews Band Caravan: biggest South Side event since ‘33". Chicago Sun-Times. 9 July 2011. Archived from the original on 6 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011.