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Plan Envisions Tech Innovator, Public Amenities for Former Finkl Steel Site

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Steve Hamann /

The nonprofit North Branch Works organization has officially unveiled their recommendations for the 32-acre manufacturing district that used to house industrial businesses including A. Finkl & Sons, A. Lakin & Sons, and Gutmann Leather tannery. Now that the warehouses on the Finkl steel property have been demolished, North Branch Works is hoping that the site, located along the Chicago River's north branch, will attract a wide range of private next generation industrial uses as well as offer amenities to the public. Regardless, the area is poised for change, but there's certainly an opportunity here for the community to help steer the direction that this Planned Manufacturing District may head in.

The study, funded by the U.S. EPA and created in partnership with the Delta Institute, envisioned three different scenarios under which the site would continue to act as a jobs-engine for the greater area. The scenarios contemplate:

• A master developer assembling all the parcels and developing the site according to a master plan with minimal reuse of existing buildings, construction of a public transportation note and of a raised two-way bike bath through the center of the site. Roadways would also be substantially reconfigured.

• The parcels being sold off and developed individually with reuse of whatever buildings remain. No roadways would be reconfigured but a raised bike path would still be constructed.

• A corporate anchor acquiring and occupying the majority of the site, while other existing parcels and buildings are reused and/or redeveloped on an individual basis. This is the only scenario where Southport remains closed to traffic but it still envisions the construction of the raised bike lane.

In any scenario, the study calls for primary uses to feature a large corporate anchor or R&D facility, a multi-tenant tech office, maker space, industrial flex space and a brewery/distillery.

They also called for some restaurants and retail sales of products produced on the site and public amenities like a plaza or open space, a public river trail, river access and parking either as surface lots or structures.

While demand is relatively high for the uses contemplated (North Branch Works pointed to the growth of nearby businesses or relocation of facilities such as Coyote Logistics, CH Robinson, WaterSaver Faucet, the UI Labs and more), the redevelopment would still dump an immense amount of new square footage onto the market. They're estimating the total available to be somewhere from 690,000- to 1,900,000-square-feet, which "...even for a high-demand location, is a significant amount of space to be absorbed by the market," the authors write.

Read the full 158-page report, with nifty graphics, here.

Andrew Schneider

US EPA Finkl/ Riverworks Planning Project [North Branch Works]
Developer Close to Acquiring Massive 28-Acre Finkl Steel Site [Curbed Chicago]
Previous Finkl steel coverage [Curbed Chicago]