Alderman Wants ‘City Within A City’ At Old Finkl Steel Site | WBEZ
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Alderman Wants ‘City Within A City’ At Old Finkl Steel Site

A part of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood that’s long been reserved for manufacturing might soon be home to condos.

Alderman Brian Hopkins (2) and his North Side neighbors have long been weighing what to do with the 30 acres of land that once housed the hulking Finkl Steel Site. Since the 1980s, Finkl Steel and a handful of companies around it have existed in what’s known as a “Planned Manufacturing District” -- a special zoning tool that helps protect certain land so it can only be used for industry.

But Monday, for the first time in the city’s history, Hopkins said he wanted to remove that zoning, open up the land and redevelop it for all sorts of other uses, like commercial, residential, entertainment, technology and retail.

“I’m thinking in terms of a mixed use development, a city within a city. Live, work, play,” Hopkins said. 

The 2nd Ward Alderman called the current zoning a set of “handcuffs” on an area that’s fast become a hotbed for retail. Hopkins will need the city council’s approval on the zoning change, but said he isn’t worried, as aldermen traditionally have a lot of influence over changes within their own ward.

Hopkins was also excited to share that his decision had the backing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but Planning Commissioner David Reifman cautioned that they weren’t there quite yet. 

Reifman calls the Planned Manufacturing District tool a “blunt instrument,” and pointed out that Finkl Steel decided to move its own facilities down to 95th and Burnside while retail crept in around the old site.

But Reifman says the city hasn’t made any final decisions about Finkl’s next use.

“All that we’re saying is that we’re beginning a discussion,” Reifman said. “And we do not know what the ultimate land plan will end up being, we do not know exactly how zoning classifications will work. Our approach right now is let's begin the conversation.” 

Those discussions are part of an examination the mayor’s office is conducting of all 26 of the city’s industrial corridors. Reifman said they’ll be “looking at transition” around the city, and stressed that City Hall isn’t looking to drive businesses away, rather “being smart“ about land use planning. 

Hopkins’ position won’t be welcome news for everyone in the neighborhood. In past conversations with WBEZ, members of North Branch Works, a community development nonprofit in Lincoln Park, had expressed concern that changing the zoning around Finkl would hurt Chicago’s chances of maintaining a diversified and growing economy. They couldn’t be reached for updated comments for this story.

Meanwhile, Ald. Hopkins said he will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. on May 3 at DePaul University so community members can brainstorm future uses for the Finkl Steel site. 

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.

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