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Former Finkl Steel Site Set to Lose Protected Manufacturing Designation?

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Finkl's rezoning may lead to easier changes to other Chicago industrial districts

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The 28-acre former industrial site along the Clybourn Corridor once home to the A. Finkl & Sons steel company looks set to be stripped of its Planned Manufacturing District (PMD) zoning classification. This move would represent the first dismantling of a PMD since Chicago originally adopted the designation in 1988. According to a report by DNAinfo, 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins expects an official announcement from the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning regarding the parcel’s rezoning sometime today.

While repealing Finkl’s PMD will open up the site up to potential residential use, the land has been squarely in the crosshairs of Sterling Bay — a developer specializing mainly in commercial adaptive reuse — since last year. Sterling Bay has already purchased the neighboring sites that housed the A. Lakin & Sons company and the Gutmann Leather tannery. The Chicago firm is reportedly in advanced talks to buy the Finkl property as well.

Though Sterling Bay has yet to publicly announce its vision for the sprawling north side site, possible uses including a tech hub, brewery, or possible corporate campus for McDonald’s have all been rumored. Hopkins is not keen on the prospect of heavy industry returning, especially after safety concerns raised on the back of fires at the nearby General Iron scrapyard. The Alderman also stands in staunch opposition to big box retailers coming to the Finkl site. While a residential component is not out of the question, a development of comprised entirely of gated townhouses is unlikely at this point.

Chicago’s fifteen Planned Manufacturing Districts were created to protect blue-collar jobs in areas of the city that faced pressure from encroaching commercial and residential development. Despite receiving initial pushback from the city, the idea of revisiting these protected industrial zones is gaining traction among officials, according to a recent report by Crain’s.

A new process for lifting PMDs would see developers charged a special fee to fund key infrastructure and transportation improvements in "transitioning areas" and could potentially create new manufacturing zones in areas of the city more conducive to heavy industry. While the details of this new plan remain somewhat sketchy, it’s clear the city is looking at the changes coming to the Clybourn Corridor as a precedent as opposed to an isolated anomaly.

Like any zoning amendment, the removal of the Finkl site’s Planned Manufacturing District must also pass the full Chicago City Council. A public meeting regarding the future of the site will reportedly take place on May 3rd at DePaul University. It is unknown if a master redevelopment plan — which is expected to include improvements such as public green space and a new bridge across the Chicago River — will be unveiled then or at a later time.