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Transportation Fixes a Major Priority Before Finkl Redevelopment

By Paul Biasco | May 28, 2015 8:45am
 The demolition of Finkl Steel was well underway Monday.
The demolition of Finkl Steel was well underway Monday.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — No matter what the future of the former Finkl Steel plant and the surrounding industrial corridor holds, interested parties from all sides of the equation agree that transportation issues must be addressed.

"We need a transportation strategy for the corridor," said Mike Holzer, director of North Branch Works, a nonprofit that has worked to keep industrial and manufacturing jobs in the area along the river.

North Branch Works presented findings of a two-year study on Wednesday night and laid out its version of how to redevelop the area.

Those findings include suggestions on how to improve transit, but Holzer and other members of the study group understand it's going to take action from various city and state agencies to make them happen.

Paul Biasco says the additional cars could be a traffic disaster:

Some ideas included using the river better by extending water taxi service miles north, adding a bus rapid transit stop to the redevelopment site, adding multiple bus routes and possibly extending or connecting the highly-anticipated 606 bike trail to area bike routes. 

They also focused heavily on pushing Metra to revamp and possibly even re-name the Clybourn stop located at Ashland Avenue and Cortland Street.

The study estimated that whatever development proposal occurs on the site, there will likely be an additional 1,600 to 1,800 cars at the site per day.

"Obviously there is a congestion problem as is," said Daniel Rapple, director of Sustainable Design with Koo and Associates, consultants on the study. "Anything that gets developed here has to be mindful of those traffic considerations."

Southport Avenue, which cut through the former Finkl Steel site, has been closed off since the buildings were demolished. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes portions of the western bank of the river, said his office has been working with the city on implementing traffic fixes well ahead of the study. Those include reconfiguring the clogged Fullerton, Elston, Damen intersection, which began this week.

"A lot of stuff we are working on. The intersection issues, bridge issues, Metra issues, we have been working on that in our office for extensive periods and are really trying to work those angles," Waguespack said after the meeting Wednesday night.

Newly elected Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward the majority of the project falls under, was not at the meeting.

The plans North Branch Works laid out included three scenarios to rebuild the industrial sites, none of which features any aspect of residential: 

• A lot-by-lot solution where the current owners of the properties sell individual buildings or parcels.

• A "master developer" scheme where a developer would lay out an organized grand plan for the site.

• And a corporate campus layout.

If built, the three proposals laid out by the study group would include adding an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 workers to the site.

The area is already very congested, especially along Clybourn and Cortland avenues.

"It's a known fact congestion is a problem," said Andrew Norman, vice president of US Equities, a market analysis consultant on the study. "Not only is it a problem for the community, it's going to be a problem for the uses that come to the study area."


The two aldermen in attendance, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and Waguespack, agreed that the redevelopment of the site was in the very early stages and the plans presented by the group were in no way representative of all the interested parties.

Smith said North Branch Works did "what they were charged with" by coming up with a proposal that was 100 percent industrial or manufacturing that would preserve jobs in the area.

"This is one group who was interested in doing some community engagement," Smith said. "There is going to be a lot more community engagement as we go forward."

Unknowns remain such as the quality of the land and possibility of contamination from more than 100 years of heavy industrial use.

Of the three parcels of land in the site, only one has gone through any type of state or federal environmental inspection.

"The only fact that we know for sure is the Gutmann site has a no further remediation letter..." Norman said. "We just don't know about the conditions of the other sites."

The Gutmann Tannery site was considered for a river-front brewery by Finch's Beer Co., but that project fell through earlier this year.

Rosita Clarke, a project manager with the US Environmental Protection Agency, said that any cleanup of the sites would go through the Illinois EPA.

"Any purchaser of the property would have to do their own due diligence," Clarke said.

Workers demolished the former Finkl Steel site earlier this year. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

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