Southwest Side warehouses face demolition

by Admin
Southwest Side warehouses face demolition

The Chicago Plan Commission will vote Thursday on whether to approve the demolition of several century-old Southwest Side warehouses considered significant by historic preservationists, and replace them with a single, $44 million modern distribution facility.

The developer, Atlanta-based IDI Logistics, says the project will create hundreds of construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs once the 246,000-square-foot building is fully operational.

The properties, located between Pulaski Road and Keeler Avenue along West Ogden Avenue on the border of the North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods, were selected earlier this year by Preservation Chicago as among Chicago’s most endangered historic structures.

“It’s really unfortunate that it’s gotten this far,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

The 15.5-acre site, bought by the developer for more than $16 million in late 2022, includes the Western Felt Works at 4115 W. Ogden Ave., a 1916 Prairie School-style structure, and a pair of buildings one block west designed in 1918 by noted architect Alfred Alschuler for Turner Manufacturing Co.

Alschuler also designed the London Guarantee Building, now LondonHouse Chicago, a 1920s-era skyscraper on the south side of the Chicago River at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, and the KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue in the South Side’s Kenwood neighborhood. Miller said it would be a shame to let developers replace Alschuler’s industrial work with a blocks-long building that will essentially be a blank wall.

“If we allow the city to become a bunch of big box warehouses, what kind of city is that?” he asked. “Soon it will look like Anywhere, U.S.A., and that’s a danger we need to focus on.”

IDI Logistics plans to demolish the existing structures and create a single story, 36-foot warehouse distribution building stretching from Pulaski Road to Keeler Avenue, along with 26 loading docks and 271 parking spaces, according to a document it filed with the Chicago Plan Commission.

Renderings show the developer will include trees and an ornamental fence on Ogden Avenue, along with colored designs on its walls. The company has not yet signed up any tenants.

A company spokesperson declined to comment on the proposal. Chicago Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco said the department does not comment on proposals prior to commission meetings so as not to influence votes. IDI Logistics’ plan will also need approval from the full City Council.

The Turner Manufacturing Co. building at 4147 W. Ogden Ave. in Chicago, April 16, 2024. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

The buildings are not officially designated landmarks, but Susan Turner Jones, great-granddaughter of August Turner, who emigrated from Russia in the 19th century and founded Turner Manufacturing Co., said her family once employed more than 500 people at the site, which played a key part in making North Lawndale a manufacturing powerhouse.

“It was magnificent in its heyday,” she said. “And there is a beauty to these brick buildings, they are a window into a Chicago that maybe is being destroyed without people realizing it.”

Turner Jones worked at the plant in the 1960s when it was one of the nation’s largest providers of affordable home decorations. But her father died in 1971, and the firm was soon bought by a large multinational company. A collection of small manufacturers and service providers later occupied the three- and four-story buildings.

If IDI Logistics breaks ground, it would likely be one of the few major warehouse projects underway in Chicago. The amount of warehouse space under construction in the metro area at the end of 2023 declined by more than 50% compared with 2022, a sign that the record-breaking post-pandemic boom is over, according to a Colliers report. Logistics Property Co.’s 571,000-square-foot, multistory warehouse at 1237 W. Division St. is the only large Chicago development under construction.

Baltazar Enriquez, president of the Little Village Community Council, said he’s torn about the proposal from IDI Logistics. He wants to see more jobs created for the Little Village and North Lawndale neighborhoods, but recognizes the value of preserving Chicago’s historic architecture and worries a massive truck depot will bring more pollution to an area where residents already suffer from high rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.

“You name it, we’ve got it and that’s why we are fighting for clean air and more clean spaces,” he said. “We are going to need more information before we decide whether to support this.”

Preservation Chicago either wants the development located elsewhere, or for IDI Logistics to incorporate the existing buildings’ historic facades into the new warehouse, suggestions already shot down by the developer, Miller said.

Turner Jones said she hopes the buildings can once again host small manufacturers who provide jobs requiring more skill, and paying higher wages, than distribution warehouses, but admits that will take a lot of work.

“These are older buildings, and there is a lot of wear and tear, so someone would have to come in with a modern vision.”

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