Common Leads Proposal to Build Massive Movie Studio Complex in Chicago

Illustration for article titled Common Leads Proposal to Build Massive Movie Studio Complex in Chicago
Photo: Ilya S. Savenok (Getty Images for Common’s Book Tour In New York)

During a rousing speech at the BET Awards in June, movie magnate Tyler Perry stressed the importance of becoming our own gatekeepers.


“When I built my studio, I built it in a neighborhood that is one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Atlanta so that young black kids could see that a black man did that, and they can do it too. I was trying to help somebody cross,” he told the crowd. “It’s all about trying to help somebody cross. While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that. While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.’”

Looking to follow suit, rapper-turned-actor Common is joining forces with a collective of real estate developers to build a massive movie production campus, according to the Chicago Tribune.

With its $71 million price tag to acquire the 415-acre property alone, their jaw-dropping proposal would transform Chicago’s South Works site into a full-fledged entertainment district.

From the Chicago Tribute:

On a 128-acre, southeast portion of the site, the plan envisions a massive film production campus, with 15 to 20 sound stages, as well as production and post-production areas.

To the north would be a 56-acre area with live music, including a theatre incorporating existing ore walls from the former steel plant. It also could include sports and recreation such as a climbing wall, skate park, sports fields, and courts. The plan also could include a golf practice facility and social club affiliated with former pro golfer and Greg Norman, according to the investor documents.

The plans also include residential buildings, hotels and other retail and entertainment concepts, such as an outlet mall and a restaurant district with a food hall, multiple parks and other public outdoor spaces.

The plan is ambitious, to say the least, and could cost upward of billions of dollars.

U.S. Steel, a self-proclaimed “leader in the global steel industry” according to its website, has been trying to sell the property to no avail since closing its plant there in 1992. Last year, Irish firm Emerald Living pulled out of a 20,000 home development project on the property over concerns about potential soil contamination.


But unlike previous bids for the property, Common’s proposal has one distinct advantage: He’s backed by big names with even bigger pockets.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Dakota Development, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment Group, also is involved. It is owned by entrepreneur Sam Nazarian, whose developments have included SLS hotels in Beverly Hills, South Beach and Las Vegas.

Others in the venture include RoadTown Enterprises, a Los Angeles consulting and management company with experience creating film production studios in other cities and Chicago development firm DL3 Realty, led by Leon Walker. Also involved is the New York-based family of Morris Nasser, the owner of the Congress Plaza Hotel on South Michigan Avenue.


As impressive as that lineup is, the Selma star still has a number of obstacles he must overcome in order to secure the property. Most notably, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently deemed the site a potential location for Chicago’s first casino, which would create thousands of jobs and generate an influx of “much-needed cash for the city’s severely underfunded pension funds,” according to Block Club Chicago.

“While a Chicago casino had been talked about for more than 30 years, today we are moving forward to ensure the new casino is viable for Chicago and all of its communities,” Lightfoot told WGN-TV in a statement.


Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has been adamant that Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago City Council have the final say on where the casino would be located, but he appeared to co-sign Common’s endeavor—and its proposed location—on Twitter.


“With smart investments like the film tax credit, we’re breathing new life into places like South Works by creating new jobs and opportunities in communities across our state,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Common and his development team expect to meet with Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development before the end of the summer, so we’ll keep you updated as this story develops.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.



I’m torn on this one. A film studio campus on the south side would be great, but industry sustainability should first be demonstrated. We already have two film studios, the old and crumbling Chicago Studio City and the newer studio/backlot, Cinespace. They seem to keep up with the demand of LA-based productions. To my knowledge, LA-based productions are not being turned away for the lack of sound stage space. On the flip side, the Chicago production community is very much reliant on LA and NYC productions feeding into the economy, and has provided a swell for the past six or seven years. But there’s an ever-present fear that this bubble might break.

Now, if Common wants to relocate back to Chicago (haha), encourage industry folks in LA to do the same (oof, tough sell) and, more importantly, robustly develop the local film community into a self-sustaining industry, then this just might be a good idea. But that will take time and lots of intentional work. “If you build it they will come” really isn’t how this business sustains itself locally.

Additionally, while I’d prefer Common’s vision over a Casino (*vomit*), I really hate the idea of losing such a marvelous space on the south end of the Lake front. It’s definitely one of my favorite places in the city to venture for some tranquility, and we’re losing more and more of that. The Steelworker’s Park is a wonderful urban ruins that should, at least in part, be preserved and the surrounding lakefront parkland along with it.