Proposed North Branch Framework Would Coordinate Growth and Investment Along the Chicago River

February 21, 2017

Plan Would Generate Resources for Investment and Job Growth in Other Industrial Corridors

Land use improvements proposed for the North Branch Industrial Corridor would reinforce Chicago’s viability as a manufacturing center while fostering continued business growth and expansion throughout the city’s industrial corridors. The improvements are designed to ensure growth in the North Branch corridor will benefit areas across the city that need investment and jobs.

The improvements are part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ongoing effort to create equitable development across the city. In 2015, the Mayor reformed the City’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance to leverage private residential development to create more affordable housing throughout the city. In 2016, the Mayor created the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to generate resources from downtown development to support commercial development on the South and West Sides.

The North Branch framework plan extends that principle to industrial development, and would benefit other neighborhoods by leveraging investment within the North Branch as underperforming properties transition to new uses. In the process, the framework plan would accommodate the creation of thousands of new jobs within the corridor while fostering the development of more than 50 acres of new open spaces and numerous transportation projects on behalf of area workers and residents.

Developed over the last 10 months through the Mayor’s citywide Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative, the improvements were presented to area stakeholders Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, by the Chicago Departments of Planning & Development (DPD) and Transportation (CDOT).

“The plan directly addresses the corridor’s unique assets and opportunities while also recognizing its role as a major jobs center within the city and region,” DPD Commissioner David L. Reifman said. “The improvements emphasize public benefits through modernized land use parameters, especially involving mixed use developments, affordable housing, waterfront access, open spaces, urban design, transit options, taxes, and sustainability. The improvements also include funding mechanisms to support continued growth, as well as the needs of industrial corridors throughout the system.”

Encompassing more than 760 acres of land along the Chicago River, roughly between Kinzie Street and Fullerton Avenue, the North Branch is one of 26 designated industrial corridors citywide. More than 80 percent of the land in the corridor is currently zoned as a Planned Manufacturing District (PMD), a designation initiated in 1988 to support heavy industrial users like Gutmann tannery, which closed in 2006, and Finkl steel, which relocated to the South Side with City assistance in 2013.

The approximately 15,000 current jobs in the North Branch include rapidly growing business sectors, such as 4,300 information technology and management jobs and approximately 4,300 leisure and hospitality jobs. Fewer than 1,500 manufacturing jobs remain in the corridor, a 41 percent decrease since 2002.

The framework plan seeks to support the North Branch as an economic engine and job center while creating resources for the unique needs of other industrial corridors within the city. A recent study of core employment trends indicates 11 corridors continue to have stable or growing manufacturing environments; nine are characterized by stable manufacturing and transportation uses; three are trending toward business-to-business operations; and three are characterized by growth in information and technology sectors, including the North Branch.

The North Branch plan includes key zoning updates within the corridor’s north, central, and southern sections. To encourage more business diversity, density and productive uses, the plan recommends initially changing the northern portion of the corridor to its pre-PMD zoning as a Manufacturing (M) district and the southern area to Downtown Service (DS). Additional rezoning options would be considered upon applications of property owners. The central portion of the corridor, including the Goose Island, would largely retain existing Planned Manufacturing District (PMD) zoning. The zoning updates could accommodate two to three times as many jobs as currently exist while allowing all existing companies and uses to continue to operate, according to the plan.

In enhancing the corridor’s public open spaces, the plan includes short- and long-term strategies to improve natural and built assets, especially along the Chicago River. Proposed improvements include a 32-acre river trail that connects to the 606 multi-purpose path, 17 acres of new wetland parks, 11 acres of publicly accessible open spaces in new private projects, five new bridge underpasses, and numerous habitat improvements for wildlife.

In creating better access for all transportation modes, the plan provides strategies to manage vehicular traffic and improve circulation through a variety of roadway reconfigurations, new pedestrian bridges over the river, and the implementation of intelligent transportation technologies, like smart signals and real-time public transit displays. The plan also recommends a feasibility study to create a north-south public transit way that would connect local employment centers with nearby residential neighborhoods and other transit options.

Funding for the public improvements would come primarily from the developments themselves, including not only developer contributions but also voluntary “zoning bonus” payments from developers seeking additional density. Additional resources could include traditional tools like Tax Increment Financing, state and federal funding sources.

In addition, the proposed plan creates a new financial tool—a “transition fee” imposed in connection with changes to traditional industrial land—that would generate resources for industrial corridors and jobs in other parts of the city. These resources would support investments in those corridors to attract new jobs, as well as relocations of companies to those neighborhoods, similar to Finkl Steel’s move to the South Side, Vienna Beef’s move to the Stockyards Industrial Corridor in 2015, and the ongoing relocations of food suppliers from the Kinzie Corridor to corridors on the Southwest Side.

The framework recommendations would be implemented through ongoing public and private activities starting with their adoption as a formal plan by the Chicago Plan Commission this spring. City Council approval would then be required as part of the review process for specific zoning and funding proposals.

In providing a framework for future growth, the planning process included more than a half-dozen public meetings with more than 500 workers, residents and other community stakeholders. Numerous independent meetings were also held with individual businesses and stakeholders, along with extensive online planning and mapping activities that included public comments and suggestions.

Additional community meetings will be held in March to discuss the framework plan.