Old Wrigley chewing gum plant in Bridgeport could be high-tech center
January 7, 2011

By Sheila Elliott

Bridgeport’s old Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. chewing gum plant, dark and vacant since its closing, soon may be illuminated by light-emitting diodes and microchip-generated beams.

A local real estate executive announced plans recently to market the former factory at 35th Street and Ashland Avenue as a prime site for mixed-use development, with potential as a high-tech center.

“Our intent is to get some integrated use on the site,” said Mike Nardini, a vice president with CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), a real estate firm. By concentrating on the technology potential, with high tech, medical, and industrial businesses as likely clients, the property “could meet its fullest potential,” according to Nardini.

Officials with the City of Chicago’s Office of Community Development drew encouragement from CBRE’s marketing effort. With the property in private ownership, the City does not have a formal plan for the site, explained Susan Massel, a department spokesperson, but “if there’s a tech component, fine,” she said.

The Wrigley property, which carries a $19 million price tag, sits at the southeast corner of the intersection of 35th Street and Ashland Avenue, about a half
mile south of the Stevenson Expressway. It has a long and storied history, playing a part in manufacturing one of Chicago ’s most successful products: Wrigley’s chewing gum. Doublemint and Juicy Fruit are probably its best known products.

A visit today leaves few mementos of those glory days, however. The parking lot is empty, and the factory has darkened spaces where windows used to be illuminated by industrial lights. A few decorative sconces still cling to the brick exterior along Ashland Avenue, one of the few signs left of the property’s former life.

The old Wrigley factory is just one of many buildings in an industrial park that extends east about three blocks to Iron Street and south to 37th Street. The neighboring plants, most of which are about the same age, date to the early 20th century and experience varying degrees of activity.

Nardini sees distinct advantages to the property, especially its location. “‘Tech hubs’ need power and fiber sources,” he said, and the property is not far from an important source, the Lakeside Tech Center near McCormick Place. Other sources, including the Orange Line power easements, also are nearby, he said.

The site offers other positives as well. “Everyone wants buildings that are strong,” and the Wrigley property meets that expectation, Nardini said. He added that the area is diverse, the property is “reasonably priced,” and mixed-use development is being encouraged. “It’s got a lot going for it,” he said.

The idea of developing older buildings that previously served as business or industrial centers for high-tech development is not foreign to Chicago, Nardini said, noting the former Montgomery Ward’s building on Chicago Avenue as one example.

The old Wrigley factory currently carries a planned-unit developing designation; no one has suggested formally expanding that zoning to include residential development. Without housing, it is unlikely that Friends of the Park, the organization that works to expand and protect the city’s parks, would become involved and advocate a park at the site, said its president, Erma Tranter.