Following Monday’s announcement that Tribune Media would be acquired by new owner Sinclair Broadcast Group for $3.9 billion, the riverfront site of the Trib’s 850,000-square-foot Freedom Center printing facility is back at the center of development speculation. With Sinclair revealing its intentions to unload all of Tribune Media's real estate holdings within the next two years, one Chicago developer tells Crain’s that the 30-acre property could be worth between $150 million to $200 million—especially with the city poised to revise the parcel’s restrictive industrial zoning designation.
Crain’s first reported that Tribune Media was entering talks with developers to sell or possibly co-develop the massive near-downtown site back in September. The report was promptly dismissed by Murray McQueen, president of Tribune Media's real estate division. “No decisions whatsoever have been made about the future use of the property,” McQueen’s statement read. “Instead, we intend to work carefully and deliberately with the City of Chicago to follow the established process for evaluating the possible future use of the property.”
But now, with the City of Chicago moving forward with a plan to reverse the wide-reaching industrial zoning that the Freedom Center site falls within, a clearer picture of the prime riverfront parcel’s future is beginning to come into focus. Under the city’s finalized framework plan for the North Branch Industrial Corridor, the site could potentially support mixed-use developments including residential high-rises.
In fact, conceptual massing diagrams illustrating how new projects in the corridor are encouraged to incorporate publicly accessible open space show new high-rise buildings occupying the Tribune owned land between the Ohio/Ontario feeder ramp and Chicago Avenue. The North Branch Industrial Corridor Framework plan is scheduled to go before the Chicago Plan Commission next week.
Preliminary plans are already in the works to redevelop the seven-acre parcel located just north of the Freedom Center. Tribune Media formed a joint partnership with Chicago-based Riverside Investment & Development for that site back in 2015. While the sale to Sinclair isn’t expected to change Riverside’s involvement in the project, the City of Chicago’s latest North Branch plan will also open the site north of Chicago Avenue to new—and far more dense—development opportunities.