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Could Finkl Steel Site Become High-Tech Campus?

By Paul Biasco | July 16, 2014 3:52pm | Updated on July 16, 2014 3:54pm
 A. Finkl & Sons Co. is in the process of moving from the western edge of Lincoln Park to the South Side.
A. Finkl & Sons Co. is in the process of moving from the western edge of Lincoln Park to the South Side.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK —  Residents and stakeholders at an initial meeting on the future of the A. Finkl & Sons Co. steel plant and surrounding industrial corridor voiced support for a plan that would encourage high-tech manufacturing and digital companies.

Consultants on an economic development group pointed to the Fulton Market district as an example of a successful transition. There, Google Inc. is preparing to move into the old Fulton Market Cold Storage facility at 1000 W. Fulton Market.

Consultants and residents at the meeting also mentioned a digital lab project that is set to be built on Goose Island as an example of what is possible.

Paul Biasco explains why tech hubs often rise out of old manufacturing buildings:

Tuesday night's meeting, hosted by the economic development group North Branch River Works, was the first in a two-year process that seeks to come up with a plan for the future of a 40-acre site that includes A. Finkl & Sons Co., the former Gutmann Tannery and A. Lakin & Sons property.

The Finkl site is roughly 28 acres, located just east of the river on both sides of Cortland Street.

Finkl was sold to a German steel firm in 2008 and is in the process of finalizing a move to a facility in the Burnside Industrial corridor.

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency awarded the North Branch River Works group a $200,000 grant to conduct a study of the 40-plus acres along the Chicago River to determine what is possible for the future.

That process includes coming up with a plan that could involve transportation improvements such as widening the Cortland bridge, improving the Clybourn Metra Station and creating amenities along the river, but mainly priming the land and surrounding area for future redevelopment.

The area is part of a planned manufacturing district, which limits the types of businesses that can move in, excluding most retail and residential uses.

"Our charge is to understand what's possible here within the framework of employment generation and business development type activity," said Andrew Norman, Vice President of US Equities Realty, a consultant on the project. 

Representatives from both Gutmann Tannery and A. Lakin were present at Tuesday's meeting, but Finkl has declined to take part in the planning process, according to North Branch Executive Director Mike Holzer.

The Gutmann Tannery has been closed for five years, while the Lakin property, located south of the tannery, contains a tire recycling business.

None of the three property owners commented on their plans for the futures of their parcels.

The sites included in the study are located between dense residential and commercial areas in both Lincoln Park, Bucktown and a slice of Logan Square.

Developer Michael Drew, who is behind the residential and retail New City development in Lincoln Park, said he believes there are inherent conflicts with the manufacturing district zoning and what the community wants on the site.

"What I'd like to see the group do is lay out a plan for the new manufacturing," Drew said, mentioning the possibility of building a high-tech digital campus on the site.

"I don't believe that anyone in this community wants to see further heavy industry on this site," Drew said.

Some residents questioned how the old manufacturing facilities could mesh with high-tech and digital industry.

"It's not just how it's going to function or how we get to it, but what happens when all these intrests collide," said Diane Levin, planning chair for the RANCH Triangle neighborhood group.

One of the issues holding the area back has been a lack of fiber optic internet accessibility in the manufacturing district along the river.

"The Elston corridor and Goose Island, because of the need to cross the river with cable, has really been at a deficit," Holzer said. "It is a need that needs to be addressed and we are aware of it."

Residents are able to submit their recommendations for the planning process at northbranchworks.org.