Chicago floats industrial revival along 3.7-miles of river

The North Branch of the Windy City’s Chicago River – or a 3.7-mile stretch of it – is charting new waters in support of a new zoning plan to modernize the area’s waning industrial base with uses ranging from advanced manufacturing to high-tech.

River Runs Through It: A 3.7-mile stretch of the Chicago River’s North Branch, once a thriving industrial corridor, is seeking to revive its fortunes with implementation of an “Industrial Corridor Framework Plan,” an initiative to draw advanced manufacturing and high tech to shoreline parcels. The plan is part of larger city-wide initiative to reinvigorate industrial centers throughout Chicago.

Rather than cede Chicago’s status as a manufacturing mecca, the North Branch’s “Industrial Corridor Framework Plan,” enacted in July, will kick off a citywide plan to revitalize select industrial centers throughout Chicago. As planned, the “Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative” will “unleash the potential…for advanced manufacturing and technology-oriented jobs while reinforcing traditional industrial activities in other areas,” the City indicated in a statement. The initiative also envisions “maintaining and improving freight and public transportation systems that serve industrial users; supporting new job growth and local job opportunities; and leveraging the unique physical features of local industrial corridors to foster demand.”

Ready and Waiting: The North Branch Framework has identified about 60 buildings, structures and industrial features in the North Branch that the Chicago Department of Planning and Development recommends serve “as part of the corridor’s ongoing modernization.”

Provisions of both the Modernization Initiative and Framework Plan may resonate with attendees of the March 2015 BuiltWorlds event Goose Island 2.0, during which experts from avenues of real estate and R&D discussed revitalization of a 160-acre parcel on the North Branch that outlived its industrial base, only to re-emerge as a high-tech hub with potential to spur manufacturing. Participants noted the growing roster of educational and research-oriented enterprises migrating to Goose Island, including the Wrigley Global Innovation Center, the culinary-oriented Kendall College and UI Labs, an entity that unites academia, industry and civic organizations in pursuit of regional innovation and tech-based economic development. They also lauded the Island’s proximity to Lincoln Park, River North, River West, Bucktown and Wicker Park, all heavily populated with residences, office buildings, retail and restaurants. Some of those boundaries have begun to blue, with Goose Island currently home to residences and restaurants that could spur additional high-tech investment.

The Framework Plan borrows a page from the Goose Island playbook, albeit on a larger scale, by “encouraging businesses focused on technology, research and manufacturing to locate within the industrial corridor,” according to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD). “It also allows mixed-use developments in appropriate locations and includes provisions for affordable housing.” Accordingly, hotels, residences and other uses may sprout along portions of the North Branch.

As the North Branch’s land use patterns continue to evolve, these buildings will provide a functional and visually compelling presence that reinforces the corridor’s role as a vibrant, mixed-use business district.

– Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner, Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s Planning, Design and Historic Preservation Division

Framework has identified about 60 buildings, structures and industrial features in the North Branch that DPD recommends serve “as part of the corridor’s ongoing modernization”, according to Medium, reporting on behalf of DPD. The so-called “character buildings” include bridges, material silos, warehouses that “support industrial authenticity,” and in some cases continue to operate in accordance with their intended uses, Medium indicated. Other components, according to DPD, are readily adaptable for contemporary use.

Golden Egg: Plans to revitalize the North Branch incorporate initiatives already in play on the Branch’s Goose Island, from attracting high-tech enterprises and encouraging mixed use development to leveraging the Branch’s proximity to several high-value neighborhoods.

“As the North Branch’s land use patterns continue to evolve, these buildings will provide a functional and visually compelling presence that reinforces the corridor’s role as a vibrant, mixed-use business district,” Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner of DPD’s Planning, Design and Historic Preservation Division told Medium in May.

The North Branch’s unique character should prove highly attractive to city-bound high-tech enterprises migrating from the suburbs, added Zack Cupovic, director of capital markets and special projects for developer R2 Companies. “You have these huge, old industrial buildings which can act as the anchor to office campuses, located just a stone’s throw away from River North, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and the expressway,” he said.

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