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Neighbors Float Ideas for Finkl Redevelopment at Community Round-Table

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Residents and stakeholders had an to opportunity to map their visions for the 28-acre site

Photos by Jay Koziarz

Last night 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins hosted a meeting at DePaul University to discuss the future of the former A. Finkl & Sons steel mill and the adjacent riverfront industrial sites along the Clybourn Corridor Planned Manufacturing District (PMD). While Hopkins has come out in favor of amending the site’s zoning to allow new uses such as residential, last night was an opportunity for neighbors and community groups to voice their individual opinions and collaborate with others. Ideas included a tech hub, a motion picture soundstage, multifamily housing, riverfront green space, and a host of infrastructure improvements.

Logan Square Association director of housing and land use John McDermott warned against converting the land to residential uses at the expense of jobs. McDermott referenced similar arguments being made back when the old Cooper Lamp factory was vacated. By pushing for job creation over new condos, that building was ultimately turned into the Green Exchange office complex.

Mike Holzer of the North Branch Works reiterated the group’s $200,000 planning and development study that explored possible uses for the Clybourn Corridor PMD that was published earlier this year. "Speakers before me mentioned uses like a technology hub, corporate campus, R&D facility, craft manufacturing, and light industry," said Hozler. "These uses are all allowed under the current PMD zoning."

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd)

The Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce echoed calls to see the site turn into an Urban Innovation District. Martin Sorge, the group’s director of community development, voiced his support for limiting auto-centric retail at the site. He contended that this type of retail would be a detriment to Lincoln Park’s existing pedestrian-friendly business corridors.

Improving transportation infrastructure was a very popular topic among many of last night’s speakers be it in the form of new bike lanes, automobile connections, access to the Chicago River, or an improved Clybourn Metra station. "We have one opportunity to address these problems and correct the infrastructure," said Lincoln Central Association president Kenneth Dotson. "Let’s get it right."

A number of neighbors strayed from the Finkl topic to voice their concerns over the future operation of General Iron at 1909 N Clifton. Though the scrap metal business was closed last week by the city for building violations, the owners plan to reopen their riverfront operation.

Flyers calling for General’s removal from Lincoln Park were distributed at last night’s meeting and prompted Alderman Hopkins to clarify that while such literature is protected under free speech, the materials were not part of the official information packet from his office. The Alderman’s personal opinion regarding the controversial business is no secret after he publicly called for the scrap yard’s relocation following a December fire.

Following testimony from neighbors and representatives of the area’s community groups, the meeting broke up into a series of round-table "charrettes" where members of the public as well as local stakeholders were able to discuss and map what they’d like to see at the 28-acre former steel mill. Each table was moderated by a graduate student of DePaul’s Sustainable Urban Development masters program. The students later presented the suggestions of each charrette to the group at large.

The charrette exercise was no doubt a tremendous learning opportunity for the students and promoted a free exchange of diverse viewpoints and ideas. That said, very little in the way of concrete plans for the future of the Finkl site and PMD-1 were actually revealed at last night's meeting. Alderman Hopkins did announce a following meeting set for June 6th at UI Labs located at 1412 N Cherry Street. According to DNAinfo, the city’s department of planning will be present — perhaps a sign of a pending zoning change.