A streetscape concept illustrates the integration of Central Manufacturing District buildings with Pershing Road in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood in a winning design from a University of Chicago team.

Students Win C40 Contest for Redesign of Central Manufacturing District

Published October 1, 2021

A team of students from the University of Chicago won C40's international Reinventing Cities design competition for their proposal to rehabilitate long-underutilized, city-owned buildings and other property in Chicago’s Central Manufacturing District.

 
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Their “McKinley Mills” concept proposes an overhaul of the massive, historic warehouses running along the south side of Pershing Road adjacent to the McKinley Park Community Area. The design proposal spans buildings and land in the manufacturing district running between South Hermitage Avenue and South Western Boulevard.

 
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C40 is an international initiative that includes design contests targeting underused urban sites in participating cities, including Chicago.

Mixed-Use, Sustainable Community

The dilapidated interiors of City of Chicago-owned warehouses in the Central Manufacturing District were the subject of a 2018 tour.The dilapidated interiors of City of Chicago-owned warehouses in the Central Manufacturing District were the subject of a 2018 C40 tour, as previously reported here in the McKinley Park News.This is the second time C40 has considered the Central Manufacturing District: A 2019 C40 contest entry lost to the Garfield Green project in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood.

“Our project re-envisions a disused, formerly industrial site as a mixed-use, sustainable community,” said Justin Bologna, one of the students on the design team.

“As the climate crisis progresses, urban planners must play a critical role in both mitigation and adaptation,” he said.

U of C Team

The University of Chicago team’s proposal beat out 13 other C40 submissions from around the globe. Social sciences Professor Emily Talen advised the group, which also included Defne Aksel, Fabienne Bick, Andrew Goldblatt, Griffin Seyfried, Andrew Langford, Julia Spande and Isaac Rand.

 
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The project presentation details the winning proposal, including design direction, likely tenants, conversions of existing buildings and surrounding infrastructure, community integration, green operations, and prospective costs and financing.

$1 Billion+ Real Cost

The presentation’s proposed budget and funding mechanisms outlined a project cost of $145.45 million, with funding coming from a combination of public and private funds, and a proposed tax-increment financing (TIF) district.

However, the project presentation did not include or address the costs of rehabilitating the interiors of the monolithic, dilapidated, long-vacant, turn-of-the-century warehouse spaces, which together comprise millions of square feet of space.

With developer sources conservatively estimating rehabilitation costs at $300 to $400 per square foot, the actual cost of this project could easily exceed $1 billion.

 
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Wall for Air Emissions

The proposal also suggests the City of Chicago establish the project as a Planned Development, which provides more flexibility toward land use design, especially given the site’s adjacency to Planned Manufacturing District No. 8 (the Stockyards District) and lots of heavy industry, including MAT Asphalt and Norfolk Southern’s massive Ashland Avenue rail yard.

The overview of the winning C40 proposal from the University of Chicago shows the scope of the rehabilitation project running between South Hermitage Avenue and South Western Avenue.The overview of the winning C40 proposal from the University of Chicago shows the scope of the rehabilitation project running between South Hermitage Avenue and South Western Avenue.In the proposal, a custom glass wall would mitigate airborne emissions from the industry next door. However, the proposal did not address regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that would prohibit much of the proposed construction, especially residential units.

Housing Previously Opposed

Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development also did not explain their support for this project in the wake of the Department of Housing’s opposition to the nearby Parkview Lofts affordable housing development at 2159 W. Pershing Road.

 
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In 2020, the housing department opted not to commit $8 million in planned Parkview Lofts support from the City of Chicago, saying that residences were unsuitable there because of proximity to nearby industry. In June 2021, the Chicago City Council voted to approve the project.

An Academic Exercise

In addition to including the City of Chicago-owned buildings in the Central Manufacturing District, the project presentation spanned across property that is currently privately owned.

In a reply on Twitter, the Department of Planning and Development noted that “the C40 design competition is an academic exercise.”

“The concepts are visionary, actionable and forward-thinking,” said planning department Commissioner Maurice Cox. “I encourage developers across the world to consider these ideas for what is arguably Chicago’s largest adaptive reuse opportunity.”

 
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This story has added a clarification, above, that the Chicago Department of Housing opted not to commit – rather than cancel – the $8 million in affordable housing funding in 2020.


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