Inside four hulking warehouse buildings along the south side of Pershing Road between Ashland and Western avenues, workers used to process meat, manufacture pianos and build furniture. Today, each of the enormous buildings is about 600,000 feet — and empty. The city of Chicago has tried to revitalize this stretch in the McKinley Park neighborhood to no avail, but now officials think the third time will be the charm.
“It’s one of the finest collection of those manufacturing buildings that you can find anywhere. I’ve never seen block after block after block of that vintage lined up that way. And I was like, what is that? And why hasn’t it been reused?” said Mauice Cox, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development.
In the past, the city tried to bundle the buildings as one project for developers, but they found four massive buildings too large to take on. Now, the city is asking for redevelopment proposals for just one building, 1769 W. Pershing Road, built more than a century ago for the U.S. Army and part of the country’s first planned office park. There’s an option to take on a smaller building next door.
The city is offering a number of aligned incentives, including tax credits. Still, repurposing industrial buildings is also challenging because of scale and floor plans.
“The ideal vision will have a mix of uses, and it will most likely have a housing component. It probably has an opportunity to be a major job generator, whether it’s an entrepreneurial hub, whether it’s a technology base or life science base. There’s no single use that I think can fill up those buildings,” Cox said.
Proposals are due to the city in late October. The guidelines call for preserving the façade while including affordable housing, green infrastructure, open space, pedestrian-friendly designs and public art.
McKinley Park is a working-class community with a diverse population of Latino, white and Asian residents. Repurposing Pershing Road is one thing — creating a hot destination spot out of sync with the rest of the neighborhood is another.
“We’d love to retail, a few more restaurants. But we … don’t want to be Wicker Park,” said Kate Eakin, vice president of the McKinley Park Development Council. “We want what comes in to be appropriate to the people who already live here and to provide opportunity for the people who live here.”
Neighbors expressed wanting a gathering space for teens, and they are clear about not wanting logistical distribution centers with trucking that pollutes.
“People in our group, as well as several neighbors, want to see more small businesses in the area. There’s been mention of green housing,” said John Belcik, the council’s president.Last year, students at the University of Chicago participated in an urban design contest to reimagine the industrial corridor and christened it McKinley Mills.
“We wanted to create a development that is sustainable,” said Justin Bologna, a recent graduate who worked on the proposal. “There are also, you know, a handful of different types of green infrastructure that we wanted to implement on the site: permeable pavements, rainwater gardens or rooftop gardens. We wanted to incorporate green jobs onto the site to advance green industry.”
Some of those green elements are referenced in the city’s call for redevelopment proposals, which are due Oct. 21.