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Historic Schulze Bakery Building Finally Finds Data Center Tenant

By Sam Cholke | September 16, 2015 11:53am | Updated on September 16, 2015 2:11pm

Developers of the Schulze Bakery said they have found a data center tenant for the historic building. [Pappageorge Haymes]

HYDE PARK — Computer servers will replace bread and ovens in a historic bakery left vacant in the Washington Park neighborhood for 11 years.

On Wednesday, 1547 Critical Systems Realty announced it would use almost half of the five-story building at 40 E. Garfield Blvd. for a data center.

“With an initial planned investment of over $130 million, this data center will provide the much needed capacity the Chicago market requires as well as jobs to the area,” said J. Todd Raymond, CEO of 1547.

The first phase of the data center will occupy 52,000 square feet, all of the five-story section fronting Garfield Boulevard of the nearly five-acre bakery complex, according to Ghian Foreman of 55th and State Redevelopment, who has been working on reviving the building since 2006.

“Data center in the front part and in the back we want to train people on how to do data centers — it’s not a lot of jobs, but it’s jobs,” Foreman said. “Everyone will need to give up some profit to improve Washington Park.”

As recently as April, there were concerns the building on the National Register of Historic Places couldn't be reborn and Landmarks Illinois put it on its 2015 list of Most Endangered Historic Places.

Foreman has searched for the past seven years for a tenant savvy enough to manage both the intense demands for electricity and cooling data centers require and navigate the labyrinth of tax credits necessary to finance putting it in a historic building.

The data center will need 10 megawatts of power to run the brigades of servers and the battalions of air conditioners necessary to keep them at a constant 72 degrees.

Foreman said Washington Park is perfectly suited to these needs. Unlike the suburbs, ComEd’s grid is strong enough to pump out the electricity needed, and unlike Downtown the land is cheap enough to accommodate the huge amount of floor space needed for the servers.

He said it will take two to three years to finish the restoration of the ornate terra-cotta façade and up to five years to have the data center up and running.

Raymond of 1547 said he anticipated it would be quicker. He said he hoped servers would be up and serving internet cloud services in three years.

He said the outside will look like any other office building and you would never be able to tell that inside a cable company is storing the shows their customers saved to watch later, for example.

“Inside it’s filled with air conditioned secure rooms,” Raymond said. “It’s just rows and rows of computer servers as far as the eye can see."

He said he predicts the facility would create numerous construction jobs for the next 10 years as the next phases get started and permanent data center technician jobs, which can start at $50,000-a-year and go up to $160,000-a-year for pay.

"It's a job that's in huge demand in every market across the country," Raymond said, adding that he joined Foreman's commitment to training new data technicians onsite.

Raymond said the facility could have up to 12 tenants renting server space, but would more likely be rented to five tenants, each taking one floor of servers.

Though Foreman had originally hoped to include some retail in the building, that plan is now being moved to later phases of development.

“Data centers don’t like to live with other things. It has to be a really secure building,” Foreman said.

He said he’s still committed to doing more than put the building back into use and wants the bakery complex to have tenants like restaurants and other businesses that help enliven the neighborhood’s main strip along Garfield Boulevard.

“The goal is to spur additional investment,” Foreman said. “This is the only one step in a bigger plan for the neighborhood.”

John Ahlschlager, the architect behind the Paramount Theater and many of Logan Square’s greystone mansions, designed the bakery in 1914. It was the largest in a group of five bakeries that once flourished in Washington Park and filled the neighborhood with the smell of butternut bread, white and rye.

Interstate, the final baker to fire the ovens in the building, closed in 2004 after 90 straight years of bread baking on Garfield Boulevard.

The main structure of the bakery will house a data center. [Pappageorge Haymes]

The developer is hoping to include space for training on data center jobs somewhere in the nearly five-acre bakery complex. [Pappageorge Haymes]

The building features detailed terra-cotta tiling on the exterior. [Pappageorge Haymes]

Workers are seen in 1916 when the bakery was one of the largest in the world. [Internet Archive]

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