Last year was a big one for Chicago's apartment and hotel builders, as both segments of the real estate industry are now witnessing full-on building booms. However, the city's commercial developers shouldn't be overlooked. Downtown office space is hotter than it's been in years, with vacancy rates continuing to fall, largely due to Chicago's growing tech industry. As spaces in River North become increasingly more difficult and expensive to land, developers are transforming old industrial facilities in the city's neighborhoods into new high-tech office destinations. With Google's anticipated move into the redeveloped Fulton Market Cold Storage facility securing the West Loop's identity as a tech center, there's another area looking to become a power player in Chicago's tech world: Goose Island. Leading the charge on the man-made island is South Street Capital, who is planning two major office projects, a move comparable to Sterling Bay's oft-cited seeding of the West Loop tech industry.
Last year, South Street Capital announced two major projects, starting with the redevelopment of the old Pickens-Kane Moving & Storage building at 909 West Bliss Street, a 285,000-square-foot complex dubbed 909 West Bliss that features room for about 500 tech employees, a large green roof space, indoor bike parking and a fitness center. Then in September, South Street unveiled a redevelopment plan for the Goose Island Boat Yard site along the Chicago River. Teaming up yet again with Hartsthorne Plunkard Architecture, the second project is not only larger in size and scale, but also includes innovative infrastructure features such as a water taxi stand and a suspended pedestrian and cycling bridge.
While a new tech-focused Goose Island is exciting, the area's neglected infrastructure presents a number of challenges for anyone considering major investment in the area. During a presentation of the upcoming projects at a North Branch Works fundraiser in November, South Street's Matt Garrison announced that the company will seek to build not just one bike-ped bridge, but two. The first bridge will be located on the southwest side of the island, connecting the 934 North Branch project to Chestnut Street — just a short walk from the Chicago Avenue Blue Line station — while the second, on the center of the east side of the island, will connect Goose Island to the Clybourn Corridor and the nearby North/Clybourn Red Line station. "By adding these two bridges, we feel that we've solved a huge problem in an inexpensive way," Garrison said during the presentation. "It's not going to be easy to build, but we think it makes a lot of sense." Garrison noted that the island's infrastructure will need a major overhaul to make the entire area more pedestrian and bike friendly. We reached out to Garrison for a more in-depth comment on the matter:
We are under no illusions that it will be easy to get these bridges built. It will be a multi-year effort spanning various state and federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, The Coast Guard and many more. But, at the end of the day we think it makes a lot of sense, and when things make sense they have a good chance of happening. Goose Island is a 160-acre island that has attracted investment in spite of limited infrastructure advancements. Notable examples are the Wrigley Innovation Center and Kendall College. We believe that the key to unlocking the true value of Goose Island is to optimize it from a transportation, infrastructure and marketing standpoint. This is some of the best real estate in Chicago that has been carefully set-aside by city planners as a location designed to create more local jobs. So what is the highest impact, lowest cost way to optimize this?
You have hundreds of millions of dollars of in-place CTA infrastructure that is within striking distance of Goose Island that is cut-off by the river. The Blue Line stop at Chicago and Milwaukee is about a quarter mile away, and the North Avenue Red Line stop is about half a mile away. We can connect this infrastructure with pedestrian and bike bridges and set Goose Island up to attract even more investment. With the bridges in place, you are a five-minute walk to the Blue Line and a ten minute walk to the Red Line with all of the great retail activity along the Clybourn Corridor. It's low cost, it's sustainable, and it leverages existing assets to solve an addressable problem. The bridges will activate two forgotten sections of the Chicago River and help make Goose Island architecturally significant. This is very important to us.
We believe that getting these bridges built will be a major catalyst in building Goose Island 2.0.
And indeed, transportation is one of Goose Island's biggest weaknesses, and tech tenants will want a space that is easy to get to using public transportation and other alternative modes of transportation. The infrastructure within Goose Island itself is also very challenging, as the roads that line the old industrial corridors are full of potholes and are missing sidewalks. Goose Island isn't very bike and pedestrian friendly, but will making it more walkable and accessible actually help? During the November presentation, Garrison suggested that making the island not only easier to get to, but easier to get around on will also be a huge win to attracting new businesses, "Think about all the investment that's occurred here in spite of the blighted infrastructure, and think about the investment we can attract when we put our best foot forward." We asked urban planner, data guru and former Streetsblog Chicago author Steven Vance what he thought about the proposed bike-ped bridges and improving Goose Island's infrastructure.
The new bike and pedestrian bridge that South Street Capital is proposing to link West Town/River West to Goose Island will improve the connectivity of the non-motorized street network in Chicago and should provide a pleasant, low-stress route to jobs on Goose Island and homes south of there. Goose Island already has one bridge at the north end usefully connecting pedestrians and bicyclists over Cherry Street/Avenue from Division Street to shopping on North Avenue. The issue that should be improved alongside any new island infrastructure is that streets on the island and surrounding it don't have the same low-stress characteristic as the car-free bridge would. As for the proposed bridge design, the designers should take care to create a low slope and limit the distance. The width should be adequate for people to walk and bike side-by-side, because these are social transportation modes, and then some: People tend to stop on bridges that have interesting views.
With the ambitious overhaul of Goose Island comes a number of serious challenges, but if pulled off, hundreds of tech workers may find themselves commuting to the island instead of River North or the West Loop. The redevelopment of the island can also serve as a case study for the redevelopment of the former Finkl Steel site, which has many parallels to Goose Island. Regardless, there are a lot of changes in store for Goose Island this year, and it'll definitely be worth keeping an eye on.
·Developer Plans Second Tech Office Project for Goose Island [Curbed Chicago]
·Here's A First Look At Goose Island's Newest High-Tech Hub [Curbed Chicago]
·Developer To Turn Old Warehouse Into High Tech Office Space [Curbed Chicago]