(June 16) CHICAGO — There is some action still on Chicago’s South Water Market.

And, while the bulk of the produce business has shifted a couple of miles away to the new Chicago International Produce Market, things are likely to get livelier still at the old facility.

“The mayor is talking about developing that area for one of those new gambling ships, if they all agree to it,” said Bob Strube, chief financial officer for Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., one of the largest fruit and vegetable wholesalers and distributors in the city. “It’s a choice location — hey, it’s 5 minutes from downtown.”

Precise plans on what to do with the area surrounding the old South Water Market, which most of its 59 produce vendors had abandoned for the new terminal market facility in November, aren’t yet clear.

What is clear is that the old market is set to come under new ownership by the end of June.

$35 MILLION DEAL

A residential developer signed a contract in April — Strube said the deal is worth about $35 million, or about $212,000 per unit — to buy the South Water Market, with plans that reportedly would transform the Near West Side sector of the city from a home to factories to a community for professionals.

“The original offer, from (another) developer, was $10,000 a unit, and that $10,000 was contingent on the fact that they’d get a pool for zoning, redevelopment and agreement from the city, and you didn’t get any money until the sale actually went through,” said Peter Testa, president of Testa Produce Inc., a Chicago produce wholesale operation and one of two market tenants who headed up negotiations for the old market’s 72 shareholders.

The produce wholesalers agreed to sell the six-building complex to Enterprise Development Co.

“I was in on the meetings. They have some good plans for the area,” Strube said.

The market’s buildings had served as the heart of the city’s produce business since 1925.

ZONING CHANGE

Enterprise and its chief executive, Ron Shipka, have filed for a zoning change that would allow the company to build 875 homes in the area, which is adjacent to the University Village housing complex at the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle.

Shipka told the Chicago Sun-Times that he wants to retain the buildings at the old market, which have classical terra cotta detailing.

The deal is scheduled to close June 16-19, said Gene Ruffolo, president of Ruffolo Corp., the other chief negotiator representing the market shareholders.

Coordination has been the project’s most daunting obstacle, Ruffolo said.

“Here, we had 59 owners, and the hurdle here was getting 59 people on one page,” he said.

Opening the new facility, which is larger and allows for smoother truck traffic, helped to smooth the final stages of the sale process, said Ruffolo, who added that only about 15 vendors — including his own company — remain on the South Water Market.