McKINLEY PARK — Developers are still hoping to turn vacant industrial space that once housed the Wrigley gum factory into a major retail space, complete with a bank, restaurants and a big box store.
The sale of the property, about 32 acres at the southeast corner of 35th Street and Ashland Avenue, was closed in April 2012 by Oakbrook-based developer Avgeris and Associates.
The company’s site plans show a huge retail development that includes anchor retail stores, restaurants, a bank and room for one big box store. Three parking lots would provide nearly 600 parking spaces.
City records show the area remains zoned for a planned manufacturing district.
"The location is actually excellent for this," said McKinley Park resident Justin Kerr. "We live in an underserved area for many amenities, especially those that appeal to the growing population of professionals on this side of town. The jobs this development would support would be helpful, even if they're mostly service industry jobs."
Still, Kerr said he's "holding out hope" for local companies, not chains, to take over the space.
According to various media reports, a plan by the global real estate firm CBRE to turn the site into a high-tech manufacturing hub was scrapped, and CBRE sold it to Avgeris for about $5 million, a fraction of the $19 million asking price.
Officials at both companies did not return calls seeking comment.
The property was once home to the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. Built in 1911, the company's factory contained 175,000 square feet used exclusively for making the company’s signature gum flavors, like Spearmint and Doublemint. Other buildings on the grounds included manufacturers of bags and burlap, doors, metal, kitchen cabinets, wholesale grocers and a lamp company.
In a controversial move that slashed local jobs, the Wrigley company shuttered the plant in 2006.
According to the Sun-Times, the move was an embarrassment for former Mayor Richard Daley, who told the paper the company agreed to keep the plant open “in exchange for a subsidy to build a research center on Goose Island… Alas, Daley never got the commitment in writing. Wrigley closed the factory in 2006” after nearly a century-long run.
As development plans chug along, preservationists are bemoaning the potential loss of the once-robust Central Manufacturing District, an industrial corridor filled so-named for its strategic location 14 miles from the city’s northern tip, 14 miles from the southern end and halfway between the western border and Lake Michigan.
Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago, said he's hoping the developers would reconsider their plans to demolish the buildings in favor a hybrid plan, one that allows for the creation of a strip mall and parking but also preserves the large corner building for a creative or industrial use — not unlike what's taking place at the nearby Bridgeport Art Center and Zhou Brothers Art Center.
"Here we've got an industrial building that once produced gums and candies. This would be a chance to play on that, to celebrate it and to preserve that corner. Too often, we have these corners that slip away from us and become nothing."