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Open thread: What kind of new development makes sense for Chicago’s North Branch?

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With City Hall removing barriers for new development, what should the corridor look like in the future?

Chicago Department of Planning and Development

Yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved a measure to redefine the the boundaries of the North Branch Industrial Corridor’s Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs). The culmination of a year’s worth of public meetings and commentary, the piece of legislation was drafted in response to many industrial businesses leaving the 750-acre riverside corridor between Kinzie Street and Fullerton Avenue.

As expected, the latest move aims to open large portions of the zone to new, non-manufacturing uses and has some developers licking their chops. While data collected by the city made a compelling case for repealing PMDs that have out-lived their usefulness, opinions still vary as to what kinds of new development make the most sense for an area bordered by Lincoln Park, Bucktown, River West, Goose Island, and downtown Chicago.

Early signs point to a growing interest in loft-style office space. Earlier this week, information surfaced on Riverside Investment & Development’s plans for a 7-acre “connected campus” of mixed-use towers and open space at 700 W. Chicago Avenue. Could this be a teaser of the kinds of developments eventually expected for the 30-acre Tribune Freedom Center printing plant or the 28-acre former Finkl Steel site purchased by developer Sterling Bay for $140 million?

Rendering of 700 W. Chicago Ave.
Riverside Investment & Development/Goettsch Partners

Though the city’s grand plan for the area allows for mixed-use development in places deemed “appropriate,” it is also important to recognize that North Branch Corridor hardly exists in a vacuum. The area has little in the way of mass transit and already grapples with congestion along its east-west arterial streets—especially around the big box store retail corridor of North Avenue.

City planners are looking at a variety of infrastructure improvements ranging from “smarter” traffic lights to a dedicated multi-modal public transit-way running the length of the corridor, but financing and timelines of implementation remain murky. The issue of the plan’s minimum of 10 acres of open space—be it contiguous or piecemeal—also continues to be a hotly debated topic.

What kind of development would you like to see in Chicago’s North Branch Corridor?