Chicago Sun-Times

3 groups vie to revive a chunk of Chicago’s industrial legacy


When you have vast amounts of littleused space to revive for the sake of jobs and community enrichment, you pick a place to start and be brave.

Three competing developmen­t teams and the city’s Department of Planning and Developmen­t, working with community groups, are in that process now. The teams have responded to the city’s public request for proposals for two properties it owns along Pershing Road, where a row of buildings defines Chicago’s historic Central Manufactur­ing District, lining the road like big-shouldered centurions of another age.

A century ago, more than 250 firms were in the district, according to published research, young companies such as Ford, Wrigley, Pullman and Westinghou­se. “With outstandin­g rail connection­s and a broad variety of shared services, the CMD became one of the largest industrial parks in the world,” said a 2016 report by Chicago’s Center for Neighborho­od Technology.

Today, the broad multi-floor layouts with scores of pillars to hold up bygone loads are out of the question for today’s companies seeking low-rise efficiency. But what do you do with space that’s so hard to reconfigur­e for some other purpose, such as office or residentia­l? The average person inside would be a long way from any window. And the district is on the National Register of Historic Places, so wanton destructio­n is strongly discourage­d.

Last week, city officials reported details of proposals received for two properties. The parcels are a 570,000-square-foot building at 1769 W. Pershing and a one-story building with parking next to it at 1717 W. Pershing. The sites overlook the McKinley Park neighborho­od, whose eponymous park is just up the street. The big building is vacant, while city agencies use the smaller property but can make way for something else.

Judging from the proposals, there’s a chance “something else” could be a film studio. Two of the submission­s imagine redevelopi­ng the smaller site as studio space to feed streaming services hungry for content.

One plan is from Outpost Studios, a team that includes property investor Joseph Cacciatore, Walsh Constructi­on and Chicago Media Angels, a firm based here at Cinespace Studios that invests in video production­s. The other comes from Pershing Road Studios, whose members include Chicago developer LG Group and Cinelease Studios, which operates in 14 cities.

Both imagine using the 1769 building for offices filled by companies and activities related to the video business. Housing would be in the mix, perhaps temporary lodging for actors and crews. The LG proposal calls for the demolition of parts of the building’s interior to accommodat­e more sound stages and other uses.

The third plan comes from Gary Pachucki, founder of IBT Group, currently involved in an industrial redevelopm­ent in West Humboldt Park. His idea started with something prosaic — a grocery store or similar retail building on the 1717 property — and topped off with a flourish.

Working with architectu­ral and engineerin­g firm Epstein, Pachucki would carve out parts of the 1769 building to create smaller floors with more sunlight for flex offices and lab space and 120 residentia­l units, including the city’s mandated set-aside of homes for people of moderate incomes. He’d turn the roof into publicly accessible green space, hoping to eventually connect it to two adjoining buildings the city also owns. It could become a three-building rooftop park totaling around 7 acres.

His inclusion of Epstein in his team was a nice touch. The firm, now more than 100 years old, had its first headquarte­rs in the district’s iconic Clock Tower Building at Pershing and Damen Avenue, which concealed old waterworks.

All proposals would preserve the historic northern and eastern frontages of the building. The estimated budgets range from $90 million to about $120 million, and each developer will be looking for tax increment financing and other subsidies. For the two parcels themselves, the city said it will want something close to their appraised value of about $6.65 million.

“Any of these proposals would result in over 1,000 new people in the space,” said Kate Eakin, president of the McKinley Park Developmen­t Council. “So our priorities are how to use that space in a way that’s best for the neighborho­od.”

She said the group will consider how well the ideas fit with the neighborho­od plan it issued in 2021. The plan identified jobs, affordable housing and modern space for entreprene­urial businesses as some ongoing needs.

The city has invited area residents to take a survey about the proposals this month. Informatio­n is on its “Pershing Road RFP” webpage. If last week’s virtual meeting with the community is any sign, the city should expect an onslaught. More than 200 people attended the meeting.

The department’s selection of a winning proposal is expected in April. Then comes several months of negotiatio­ns to finalize details.

 ?? IBT GROUP ?? A rendering of IBT Group’s proposal for 1769 W. Pershing Rd., which includes a rooftop park.
IBT GROUP A rendering of IBT Group’s proposal for 1769 W. Pershing Rd., which includes a rooftop park.
 ?? OUTPOST STUDIOS ?? An illustrati­on from Outpost Studios shows overall plans for 1717 and 1769 W. Pershing Road.
OUTPOST STUDIOS An illustrati­on from Outpost Studios shows overall plans for 1717 and 1769 W. Pershing Road.
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