Chicago's industrial past will continue to play a role in its tech-industry future, according to panelists at the Design Dialogues: Post Industrial Chicago event at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last night. The big question is, with the hot Fulton Market District already beginning to fill up and look towards westward expansion, what's the next area primed for development? Moderated by Chris Bentley, the Midwest Editor for Architect's Newspaper, the discussion explored the future of industrial re-use with key players from government (Eleanor Gorski, Assistant Commissioner and Director of Historic Preservation at Chicago Department of Planning and Development), design (Dan Kraiss, principal at Box Studios) and development (Andy Gloor, managing principal of Sterling Bay). Using the 1K Fulton building and renovation of the Montgomery Ward building on the Chicago River as examples, the discussion explored how industrial re-use allows the city to preserve historic building stock, gives tech tenants the massive floorplates, flexible floor plans and character they want out of their commercial space, and bring development and jobs to the city.
"These buildings have character and let a company rebrand itself," says Gloor. "Many of those built in the last 20 years are the same, and offer all the same amenities."
"You can't build something like this from scratch," said Kraiss, whose company has designed offices for Groupon, Lightbank and Threadless. "It is a balance. Adaptive reuse is important for green architecture."
It's also important for preservation, according to Gorski. The city wants to save its industrial architecture to preserve an important sense of Chicago history, she says, answering criticism that the criteria for preserving these spaces wasn't as strong as other buildings. In addition to providing landmark status for the Fulton Market Innovation District, which the city envisions as a commercial and industrial center with minimal residential development, the Department of Planning and Development also received a grant to study the city's industrial architecture to identify targets for preservation.
When asked about future areas for development, the discussion turned to moving the Fulton Market area west, as well as the Cermak Road Bridge District and the Central Manufacturing district. Gloor zeroed-in on the Finkl steel site, saying that the Planned Manufacturing District (PMD) status granted to the area just didn't make sense -- who's bringing a factory to an area bordering Lincoln Park and Bucktown? -- and that is would be a perfect space for an innovation center or corporate campus. Gorski also added that the site, already being demolished, isn't one the city is interested in preserving.
"Chicago is competing against other cities and developments like Hudson Yards," says Gloor. "It's worth a debate to figure out what we're going to do. Right now, there are suburban companies looking downtown, eyeing the space and the idea of a large campus on that site. It's a very unique space."
While the future of these spaces is still to be determined, what seems inevitable is the chaging character of Chicago's industrial neighborhoods. Gloor spoke of some of the more interesting issues Sterling Bay had to deal with when developing in the area, including unfreezing cold storage space in the soon-to-open Google building that was coated in ice. He said they may not have gotten the best reception by the neighborhood initially, but as Sterling Bay developments have played a part in raising real estate prices in the area, Gloor says warehouse owners are selling old, out-of-date, spaces they purchased at $40 a square foot for $300.
A story Gloor shared about showing Google execs the Fulton Market area for the first time illustrates the shift. He tried to schedule the meeting for later in the day, so they wouldn't see all the meatpackers loading trucks, but Google insisted on 8 a.m. During the tour, one pulled him aside and said "don't sanitize the neighborhood." As the neighborhood continues to grow and welcome new businesses, it's seems like that part of the Fulton Market tour has an expiration date.